Death Penalty


I was wondering where the Catholic Church stands on the death penalty. Catholics believe in the sanctity of life, and that everyone deserves to live. I believe that no one - no matter how horrible - deserves to have their life taken away from them. There is always the chance of repentance with a lost soul. Thank you!

The most significant document of the Magisterium on the subject is Evangelium Vitae presented by the papacy of John Paul II. This is the guide for the Catholic understanding of the role of the death penalty.

"*Moreover, “legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the State”.44 Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason. 45

  1. This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence”.46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated. 47

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person”.48 *"

**I am sure the answer above is more adequate than mine but as I know it

the Catholic church is against the death penalty ( unless there is no other option to keep that person from harming others )

and in this day and age its really un-necessary to kill people when the commit crimes

although one can still be of the opinion of favoring the death penalty and be in union with the Church as long as they understand the position declared by the Church** :o

taking anothers life is ALWAYS murder, whether its abortion, someone killing another in a robbery, or a law enforcement official injecting an death row inmate…its all murder and those committing will have to answer to God for it.

What about the same law enforcement officer that shoot the robber that is about to kill you? No, the Church makes a better distinction than you do. Not all killing is murder, and the death penalty is not murder.

mab23 has the best synopsis of the teaching of the Catholic Church.


And looking at the Catechism:

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

Whatever else may be true of capital punishment, this assertion is not.*Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder. *(Catechism of Trent)

Can you (or somebody) elaborate on this? If it’s a moral issue how can we deviate from it?

Except for judicial murder … as in the case of Jesus Christ.

I agree that not all killing is murder, but isn’t all killing wrong? Who are we, as humans, to decide who gets to live and who gets to die?

The church currently opposes the use of capital punishment but at the same time acknowledges that states have the moral right to employ it. That is, she believes it does more harm than good but does not condemn those who believe otherwise.*“There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty” *(Cardinal Ratzinger)
The church has always rejected the argument that the use of capital punishment was immoral.


No, all killing is not wrong. The church has been very clear about this.Q. 1276. Under what circumstances may human life be lawfully taken?
A. Human life may be lawfully taken:

    1. In self-defense…*
      2. In a just war…
      *3. By the lawful execution of a criminal… *(Baltimore Catechism)

No, but that is a good question. What is always wrong is failure to respect the value of each life. Even if one kills in self-defense, or defense of another, it should be from extreme and immediate need, not a disregard for life.

St. Thomas Aquinas says a judge may lawfully kill, since he has authority from God. He cites Romans 13:4 “… because he is God’s servant working for your own good. But if you do evil then be afraid of him, because his power to punish is real. He is God’s servant and carries out God’s punishment on those who do evil.” He also says we may not kill on our own authority.

See: St. Thomas Aquinas ;God’s Greatest Gifts: The Commandments and the Sacraments
Published by Sophia Institute Press 1992

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this in paragraph 2267

"Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.“68”

I’d say we’re against the death penalty in the USA according to the catechism’s guidelines.

Bear in mind, he was speaking in general, not addressing the death penalty today. As Catholics, we look to Doctors of the Church for teaching, but to the Holy Father for leadership. We have no idea what St. Thomas would say if he was alive today. Just be cause a judge may lawfully kill because he has authority from God, does not mean that he should, or that it would be moral.

First of all, it is not the State that takes their right to life away, but the criminal, via their acts, give it up

When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live."

Pope Pius XII

There is always the chance of repentance with a lost soul. Thank you!

The two are not mutually exclusive. For example, look at Timothy McVeigh. While raised Catholic, he had left the Church. While on death row, he had a reversion, and requested and received Sacramental Absolution.

He received the Sacraments again, including full Last Rites, just prior to his execution. So we will certainly encounter saint (small s) Timothy in Heaven.

Cardinal Avery Dulles noted this is his article on the death penalty

Capital punishment does not reintegrate the criminal into society; rather, it cuts off any possible rehabilitation. The sentence of death, however, can and sometimes does move the condemned person to repentance and conversion. There is a large body of Christian literature on the value of prayers and pastoral ministry for convicts on death row or on the scaffold. In cases where the criminal seems incapable of being reintegrated into human society, the death penalty may be a way of achieving the criminal’s reconciliation with God.

It is not a sufficient reply to this assertion to say that the above-mentioned sources contain only thoughts which correspond to the historic circumstances and to the culture of the time, and that a general and abiding validity cannot therefore be attributed to them. The reason is that the words of the sources and of the living teaching power do not refer to the specific content of individual juridical prescriptions or rules of action (cf. particularly Romans 13:4), but rather to the essential foundation itself of penal power and of its immanent finality. This, in turn, is as little determined by the conditions of time and culture as the nature of man and the human society decreed by nature itself’. (Pius XII)

As Catholics, we look to Doctors of the Church for teaching…

*Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment. *(Cardinal Dulles)

… but to the Holy Father for leadership.

*Why should we condemn a practice that all hold to be permitted by God?
*(Pope St. Innocent I)

The only problem with this argument is what about all those who will and have been wrongly executed - keep in mind Christ himself was wrongly executed - If one person has been wrongly executed the whole system is flawed. The justice system is not about right or wrong - guilty or not guilty - its what can be proven - you have to account for those who have been wrongly executed in the argument that is what the true problem with capital punishment is.

You can’t prove anything with mathematical certainty in a legal system. There is always at least some minute risk of error. This does not invalidate the use of a justice system. The same applies to all crimes, and the punishment for these crimes is just as irrevocable as the death penalty. You cannot give a person 4 years of freedom back. Besides, Jesus’ crucifixion was out of deliberate negligence from the authorities to contain the mob. It was a sin, not an error.

From what I have read, the bishops do not use this as the basis for the current imprudence of capital punishment in developed countries. If they did, this argument theoretically should have been prevalent even in ancient Christian writings. The risk of error in a legal system isn’t anything new.

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