Pope and Death Penalty

It seems that our Pope has been unequivocal about the evils of capital punishment. I have never been able to understand how any Christian, let alone Catholic, could support the death penalty.

I think now that the Pope has said the final word on this matter.

Here is the link from the Vatican.


Have you ever had a family member murdered?

For me, I’m delighted to hear such uncompromising words from the Pope. And no, I haven’t suffered the murder of a loved one, before anyone asks.

The Church has always taught that the death penalty can be permissible, albeit in rare cases. It is doubtful whether even a Pope can change the historic teaching. He can express his personal opinion.

Having a family member murdered would make the opinion that Capital Punishment is okay would be understandable, but being understandable wouldn’t make it right or just.

I don’t think a Pope can retroactively alter sacred scripture. Read Acts 25:11, Romans 13: 1-4, Exodus 22:18, Psalms 100:8 and 1 Corinthians 5:6

I don’t think that the Catholic Church teaches that today. “Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed,” the Pope said.

If a leader of a terrorist organization was captured, and it was obvious that his followers could and would break him out again to do more evil, it would probably be permissible.

But what most societies use it for - getting rid of murderers who can’t really integrate back into society - is not permissible, since we do have the capability to safely hold them.

Sure she does

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.

Respect for life is just that. Abortion, euthanasia, death penalty… all of these erode our respect and reverence for God’s creations. One of the main reasons that I’ve opposed the death penalty is something that Pope Francis addressed, that is it denies a criminal the chance to repent and make reparation for their crime(s).

It is permitted to oppose the death penalty.

It is not permitted to call the death penalty immoral.

No I haven’t. If I did have, I am sure that I would feel like revenge. Revenge however is against my Faith.

The Holy Father doesn’t have the authority to change the Church’s historic teaching. What he has done (and so did St. John Paul and Benedict before him) is express his prudential judgment that the death penalty is not a morally acceptable or necessary option at this stage in history.

Bill1940 is correct, i.e., no Pope can alter or rewrite or make Sacred Scripture null and void, as in the case of this particular issue, and there is clearly a significant set of Scriptural references, as well as citations from Sacred Tradition and Saints, all of which speak to the contrary of recent comments. When Pope Francis makes such noted statements, he is merely giving his personal opinion, not to be confused with establishing some universal new truth in an infallible declaration. It’s often been the case with this Successor of Peter that his words have given rise to much confusion, especially about this and other long-held traditional issues making the news. I recently read a good article that covers several aspects of this topic:


Personally, I’ll continue to hold on to what Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Saints have addressed in regard to capital punishment. I will always respect and listen to Pope Francis, but he has absolutely no authority to trump God’s Word merely because he feels it conflicts with his sentiment. He has a right to personal opinions, but it would be best if he spoke with more prudence in accordance with what is clearly established in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Dei Verbum II 10

I can understand the feelings of vengeance and hate, but they are counterproductive to the personal self.

I have, thankfully never had a relative or close friend murdered 'though did have an uncle killed by ‘German’ action during WWII], but my parents-in-law did something pretty much as bad, and indeed that also had very protracted outcomes.

Yes, I know what it is like to ‘hate’ someone, but found it to grind at my own ‘inner man’ - when I decided to ‘let go’, and indeed pray for those who had caused so much damage, I actually felt release.

I recalled, ‘forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE THEM THEIR TRESPASSES AGAINST US’, and was also reminded of Jesus on the cross, and what He did and continues to do for me.

'Feel free to hate the sin, but ‘love’ the sinner, who is to all intents and purposes also ‘your neighbour’…

I was a teenager when the UK still had the death penalty, and felt a certain hypocrisy in the judge’s words that that both condemned the person to die and wished God to grant clemency to the soul.

ps. Finding the ‘guilty person’ even now can be a bit of an imperfect science, it is a little late to say, oops, sorry, after an innocent person has been judicially ‘topped’.

While Jesus never in as many words repudiated capital punishment, He did by His own actions questions and statements seemed to prefer forgiveness and clemency.

In Shakespeare’s words:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

This isn’t difficult.

The death penalty cannot be employed when there is another option which allows the person to live that he might repent and achieve salvation.

That’s all there is to it. Everyone is making it harder than it has to be.


“The State does not bear the sword in vain”, seems St. Paul would not agree w/the pope on this matter. Furthermore, Paul goes on to tell us that governments are put in place by God, and that those who do evil should fear the State, that God uses these authorities to punish evil doers. Far from not respecting life, the death penalty is meted out because of a high regard for life…

Actually, the Church teaching is that it can only be used if there are no other means of safeguarding others.

(CCC 2267)

In regards to repentance and salvation, there is actually a body of evidence that indicates that the use of the death penalty actually brings about repentance, and thus salvation

Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote

Rehabilitation. 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.


In a noteable case, we can look at the example of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. He was raised Catholic and (obviously) fell away from the Faith.

While on death row, he had a reversion. He requested, and received, the Sacrament of Reconciliation several times on death row, and then again, immediately prior to his execution, along with Last Rites.

Interestingly enough, the willful acceptance of just punishment for temporal crimes is an indulgence, plenary for capital crimes. So there is a decently likelihood that McVeigh went straight into Heaven.

I think that if St. Paul had really pondered a tad on some of his words he might have worded them differently. If he had reflected on his own official stance when, as Saul, he lethally pursued the early Christians. If he had a crystal ball and had looked at the very many most evil regimes and dictators throughout history.

Henry VIII held by his ‘Divine Right of Kings’ rule. Todays British coinage still has ‘Fid. Def.’ for Defender of the Faith stamped upon it as a continuance of that title bestowed upon him by the then Pope. That didn’t stop him from being a tyrant - 'though granted it is possible that in some degree his bang on the head in a jousting accident may have made his demeanour worse.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” - in effect He by and large leaves political machinations up to the frail and fallible convolutions of human enterprise.

No, he phrased them very precisely (as expected, since he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write them)

Note that Romans 13 does NOT give the State the power to determine what is good and evil. That belongs to Christ and His Church.

What the obligations of the State then become is to reward the one who does Good (as defined by the Church) and punish the one who does evil ( as defined by the Church)

Nowhere in there does St. Paul recognize that God gave the State any other power.

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