Teaching on the Death Penalty


I would not go along with enslaving people. Regardless of what the natural law says, IMHO, it is wrong for a white European slave owner to hold title to a young black African female slave even if the title was acquired justly. I don’t understand why some Roman Catholics today don’t see the injustice here.


I am not sure since I don’t see any way to reconcile slavery. I have heard some people use the gospels and parables in their arguments. The only thing I can figure is a type of slavery that is not race based and functions more as a servant than slave. That seems to be more reflective of the slaves of the gospels and parables. What we think of as slavery now seems indefensible to me.


I think we might be be defining terms differently. Given the rest of your comment, it seems you might have been giving it the narrower definition which only includes the unjust form (which in fairness to you is the most common usage these days). But what you quoted from me, even if we don’t call it slavery, is not per se unjust.

The most obvious example of a just acquisition of title to services (it is contrary to the natural law to have title to a person) is a voluntary exchange. If you have an employer, your employer has title to some services from you during a limited period of time. You voluntarily exchanged this title likely for payment of a certain wage and other benefits. Is this unjust? Of course not. Just as we can voluntarily exchange some reasonable services for a limited period time, so can we voluntarily exchange all the reasonable services we might provide for a lifetime–say, in exchange for a lifetime of food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc. There’s nothing per se wrong with this (although it presents lots of opportunity for abuse, as history shows).

Some period of involuntary service (again, provided that service be reasonable, etc.) is also not always unjust, say, as punishment for a duly convicted crime (the US Constitution, for example, provides for this to this day).

I don’t think slavery as practiced in the US met the definition of just. Title was usually not acquired justly. Unreasonable services were required. People were treated like chattel (families separated, cruel animalistic practices like bits were employed, etc., etc.). As I mentioned in my prior post, experience in general showed the just form to have become merely theoretical, which is why the Church rightly advocated for its abolition everywhere (and why when we hear the word slavery today we have a good revulsion for it like you expressed, we don’t even think of just forms of lifetime servitude).


Given that you recognize this teaching is a prudential judgment you must surely accept what the church herself says about what level of assent is due such judgments.

“Prudential” has a technical theological meaning … It refers to the application of Catholic doctrine to changing concrete circumstances. Since the Christian revelation tells us nothing about the particulars of contemporary society, the Pope and the bishops have to rely on their personal judgment as qualified spiritual leaders in making practical applications. Their prudential judgment, while it is to be respected, is not a matter of binding Catholic doctrine. To differ from such a judgment, therefore, is not to dissent from Church teaching. (Cardinal Dulles, 2001)

I don’t think this is accurate.

“The individual doctrines that the catechism affirms have no other authority than that which they already possess.” (Cardinal Ratzinger

This new “teaching” is not based on any authority other than the personal opinion of the current pope.


Um, well the Pope and Bishops think it is.

I’ll stick with them on this.


Thank you for the link; it was very interesting and explained the issue far better than I did on this thread. On the same site, I’ve noticed this post, which deals explicitly with the issue of capital punishment. It may be interesting for anyone wanting a different perspective, though I understand if the header image on the site may offend the sensibilities of some posters here. God bless!

Missionary killed by world's most unaccessable tribes

I read this thread fully. Rather than come up with another death penalty thread, this is interesting in Tennessee:

So, in this inmate’s case (they can not always made this decision), he is choosing the electric chair.

I will go, generally, with what the Pope says and I will be against the death penalty. I lean that way already though I think some killings are exceedingly vile. Some cases are much different than each other.


In reading the Bible it seems that God has commanded the death penalty in certain cases. For example: Deuteronomy 22:22-25.
22 If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.
It seems that these are commandments of God? Are they not?
Do these commandments of God still hold, or did God change His mind so that they no longer hold today?


That’s Old Testament to say the least.


Of course it is the OT. Just as the Ten Commandments are from the OT. But did God change His mind from then to now? In the case when the woman was the wife of another man, was it against human dignity to kill the man and the woman he was found sleeping with ?


Thanks for sharing.I will surely go through it.


A lot of people will twist themselves into knots explaining how the Pope’s new directive for the catechism for capital punishment is not a contradiction but a development of doctrine, or that it is in line with church teaching. It’s pretty simple though. The Pope has issued a teaching in direct opposition to the constant teaching of the church. It is nothing more than a prudential judgment that should be ignored.

Don’t expect any answers to your questions. That would provide clarity, and teaching with clarity is not in vogue these days.


The form of slavery that took shape in the America’s was indeed a new form of slavery that treated people as chattel, or animals. The slavery mentioned in the gospel was more compelled servitude, usually as a result of capture in war. It was not a system of perpetual slavery that tried to breed more slaves and kept one and one’s family in a slave caste for all eternity.


This concept will probably eventually be extended to jailing people in general. At least by SOME people.
Especially as it concerns life sentences.

This from back in 2014 . . . .

Pope Francis blasts life sentences as ‘hidden death penalty’

Pontiff slates countries facilitating torture and says using prisons to fix social problems is like treating all diseases with one drug

Thu 23 Oct 2014

Pope Francis has branded life-long prison terms “a hidden death sentence” in an attack on “penal populism” that included severe criticism of countries that facilitate torture.

In a wide-ranging speech to a delegation from the International Association of Penal Law, the pontiff said believers should oppose life-long incarceration as strongly as the use of capital punishment.

“All Christians and men of good faith are therefore called upon today to fight, not only for the abolition of the death penalty – whether it is legal or illegal and in all its forms – but also to improve the conditions of incarceration to ensure that the human dignity of those deprived of their freedom is respected.

“And this, for me, is linked to life sentences. . . . .


Ender . . .

Self defense does not permit preemptive killing (except perhaps in the most extreme circumstances)

This is what I am alluding to. “The most extreme circumstances” concerning an unjust aggressor, in the sense of defense.


Some people have been saying for a long time now, something to the effect of . . . .

“We have water-tight incarceration available. And we can keep the bad guy there for the rest of his days. Unable to harm again. Therefore there is now no need for the immoral death penalty.”


I wonder what those people have to say now with even life sentences taken off the proverbial table?


I see printed just today, Pope Francis just recently reaffirmed the position that life sentences ALSO are in “the same” boat as the death penalty.

. . . that the death penalty is always inadmissible because it violates the inviolability and dignity of the person.

IN THE SAME WAY, the Magisterium of the Church understands that perpetual punishment, which removes the possibility of moral and existential redemption, for the benefit of the condemned and for the community, is a form of hidden death penalty . . .

(Emphasis mine)



I wrote “perhaps in the most extreme circumstances” to leave open the possibility that such a situation could conceivably exist, certainly nothing occurs to me that would justify preemptively killing someone who was not a direct threat. This is why the self defense argument seems to fail: someone in custody is not a direct threat and the conditions allowing killing in self defense do not apply.

Again, one of the chief requirements that permits such a killing is that it not be intended, even if it is known the act will result in death, that cannot be the objective, but with an execution the death of the prisoner is the entire objective.


I agree with that. I think it is morally wrong to put children in solitary confinement. And in many cases solitary confinement can be a cruel and unusual form of punishment for adults.


Not to put too fine a point on it Feanor2, but there was a time when the pope and most Bishops thought Arianism was perfectly sound. Thanks be to God that St. Athanasius and several other Bishops did not just agree to go along. We, in our almost 2000 year history have been here before. Hold fast to the perennial teaching of the Church.


Morality, which is based on truth, does not change with time or place. It should be obvious that no pope can either invent or change what is true, so it cannot be that what was true and moral yesterday can be false and immoral today. If something was true in the past it cannot be false now, so if life sentences are condemned as immoral today, as is implied by the pope’s comments, then either the church erred in the past by allowing it, or Francis errs today by condemning it. There are no other choices.

If he has been caught committing blasphemy in public more than twice, he is to be compelled to stand for a whole day in front of the entrance of the principal church, wearing a hood signifying his infamy; but if he has fallen several times into the same fault, he is to be condemned to permanent imprisonment or to the galleys, at the decision of the appointed judge. (Fifth Lateran Council)

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