The teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is wrong as it pertains to capital punishment. It says that “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 non-existent’” (CCC 2267; emphasis added). But there are cases of prisoners in super-max prison facilities who find ways to harm each other and guards, so the CCC is in error.
Paragraph 2267 of the CCC must be read in its entirety in order to be understood properly:
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 are 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 non-existent” [emphasis added].
The Catechism is careful to note first that the Church’s traditional teaching allows for the death penalty if execution is the only means to protect innocent lives, either within the prison system or outside the prison system. However, if non-lethal means are sufficient, the Catechism states that non-lethal means should be preferred.
The fact that super-max prison facilities are not one hundred percent fool-proof does not mean that every prisoner guilty of a capital crime is a danger to prison society or to society in general, particularly since today’s prison facilities are technologically capable of maximum security. So, while the state has recourse to the death penalty in cases that necessitate it – as the Catechism recognizes – the death penalty may not be needed in every capital case. The Catechism demonstrates the Church’s preference for, but not its requirement of, non-lethal measures.