The death penalty - right or wrong


The argument that we cannot determine what constitutes a just punishment is an argument that all punishment is unjust and the State cannot punish anyone for anything. That argument doesn’t apply solely to capital punishment.

True, and justice is very much a part of the common good, but you have just asserted that we cannot know what constitutes a just punishment.

I think you’ve misinterpreted what he said if for no other reason than that there is no such thing as an intrinsically good act. Any act, if done with a bad intent, becomes a bad act. The church gives just such an example:

1755 An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting “in order to be seen by men”).

I don’t dispute this. The point to understand here, however, is that determining what act best serves the common good is a judgment, therefore people may legitimately hold contrary opinions and there is no moral distinction between the positions.


Judges who gave light sentences, then. Plea bargaining for dangerous criminals.


Who says that this was done out of anger? When you read all of the provisions for this in the Sinai law, persons suspected of murder were tried by a jury, and could not be convicted on less than the testimony of two or three witnesses. This wasn’t just some private person mandating this, this was God’s command that the evil would be purged from the land.

The idea that this was only carried out under the direction of angels or prophets is also untrue. The normative manner in how this was carried out was through the administration of local elders and officials who carried out the law in their municipality.

Also, you are conflating killing that is mandated by God through due process of law as the result of someone committing grievous sin, with murder. The two things are not the same, and God makes a distinction between the two. Lastly, going back to Romans and 1 Peter we see that even under the New Covenant God has not revoked the right and responsibility of the state to bear the sword to implement justice. This was even applied to the Roman government under Nero.

There is absolutely no evidence anywhere in scripture that somehow God holds the “dignity of the individual” over and above the requirement of living within his law. This is Enlightenment Age thinking that is not in concert with scripture.


This is an issue I think about a LOT. I constantly change where I stand on it…but right now I stand on the opinion that anyone who takes a life should NOT be put to death - it’s far too good for them to be executed. They should have to spend the REST of their life in hard labor and all the fruits of their work (money) should go to the victim’s family. Every penny. No good food, just the basics for survival, and no comforts, just the basics. If we want no death penalty, the sentencing needs to far more harsh. They took the life of another, the least they owe is their own life in service to supporting that family with no chance of parole.


I struggle with this concept as well. In general, I would say that the death penalty is not a viable choice, and I will say that to the best of my knowledge, in response to several other respondents, rape is not a cause for the death penalty in any part of the US. I do not like the idea of putting someone to death, for the person does have an inherent dignity as a human, and to take their life generally denies the dignity. Even heinous crimes are perpetrated by a human.

This being said, I live in a prison town. I have trouble condemning the death penalty when a prisoner on life without parole kills a few guards, and arranges to have a hit man kill his prosecutor and various witnesses and jury members. Obviously imprisonment is not keeping him from killing others, and we cannot protect people from him. If this is the case (and it was around a decade ago with one of my town’s maximum security prison prisoners), the death penalty seems rather justified to me. Anyone who can kill multiple people from inside a maximum security prison seems to be a threat to society. I can also come up with other hypothetical, but not unrealistic, scenarios where killing the offender seems like the prudent, realistic, and perhaps even just scenario.


I think it is wrong.
Before last year, I would have argued for the death penalty, but in school our English teacher had us debate moral issues. The one I debated was the death penalty.
We had to prepare for the debates by doing research on the pros and cons of the topics, and suffice to say that made me thoroughly against it. (Not saying I am an expert on this topic-clearly I am not)


Does Catholicism see prison sentences as retributive or rehabilitative?

Society used to view prison as retributive but has now changed to a rehabilitation model. Whether this is due or the Enlightenment or not, has the Church changed its view as well? I often see opinions on the death penalty as being between these two views and wonder if the Church has an opinion on this?



Isn’t that basically what I typed? You’re allowed to defend yourself with lethal force, until the event is over.

Well, o.k. I’ll grant you that you don’t have to put yourself in harm’s way. But would you be obligated to call an ambulance if the murderer whom you just shot is bleeding to death and might be saved if you take action?


Have you ever been anywhere where a shooting is going on?

I always “love” theoretical questions, as they have no bearing to real life.

In some circumstances you might have an obligation; in others, no.

In the movies, the good guy/bad guy shoots someone and they fall down dead. That is not real life. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t; and there are plenty of real world examples of someone shot multiple times and they still function to kill others, or at least are able to shoot at others.

Your first call might be to 911 to get assistance - and that is not necessarily medicl assistance. Or it might be both - to report the shooting and get medical help.

Or you may have enough adrenaline that you are incapable of making a call. Or you may not have access to a phone.

So your question is theoretical, and theory is the first thing to fall apart when the brown stuff hits the fan. What generally takes over is “fight or flight”, or a disintegration of rational thought and you freeze - at which pint, you may need to call for your own medical assistance. Or start your conversation with Jesus.

So the real world answer to your question is… maybe, or maybe not.


That isn’t the argument. The argument is that the only way we can arrive at a ‘just’ punishment is through examining it for its service to the common good. Human beings cannot arrive at a just punishment any other way. Only God who is omniscient can do that. Retribution which redresses disorder caused by the crime, measures, weighs, assesses the just punishment in relation to the common good.

I did not! I was responding to your response to Cilladeroma, claiming that the common good was not the determiner of punishment, but that ‘retribution’ was. You used the term retribution as if it can be known in some divine way.

We can only determine what a just punishment is by how it serves the common good.

You have a toxic habit of attributing your refusal to accept authentic Church teaching, to the other persons ‘misunderstanding’.

St Thomas’ words are clear as a bell. The virtues are good ‘simply’. That is, they are intrinsically good. An act that stems from virtue is always good. In contrast, an act of human law that stems from justice, must be truly in service to the common good because the common good is the end of the law.


What is your issue then? You agree the death penalty can legitimately be abolished as harmful to the common good. You just don’t think it is harmful to the common good. Stop trying to use voodoo logic to make faithful Catholics doubt Pope Francis and the Magisterium.


No, I’ve never been around a real world shooting, but that’s irrelevant and it has nothing to do with what I’m stating. It seems you’re some sort of expert on real world shootings, which is o.k. with me, go ahead and flex. But I don’t know why you keep missing the point.

Let me try again:

  • In the act of defending himself and/or others, person is allowed to kill an assailant. Yes?

  • In the act of defending himself and/or others, a person might fail at preventing the murder of the others by the assailant. In other words:

  1. At 12:01 PM Bad guy shoots people, good guy shoots at bad guy and misses.
  2. At 12:05 PM Bad guy drops gun and surrenders.
  3. Good guy is Catholic. He is obligated to oppose the death penalty.

One moment good guy is allowed to try to kill bad guy. In the next moment good guy is obligated to oppose the death penalty.

Why is this so hard to understand?


Because it has nothing to do with the death penalty. It has to do with murder, which is the wrongful taking of another’s life. A dose not have the power of judgement and execution, as that is reserved solely to the State.

The death penalty has not been considered murder in the past; it has been adjudicated as the legitimate exercise of police power of the State.

Neither John Paul 2 nor Pope Benedict 16 nor Pope Francis have used the word “murder” in regards to the death penalty. Pope Francis, moving the measure of acceptability further in the direction which JP 2 was moving it, has said it is “inadmissible”. He did not, to the best of my knowledge, use the word “murder” in his statement.

It is not hard to understand theoretical questions; it is just that they usually don’t make a lot of sense in the real world.

And I have been in the military and been shot at, so my comments stand as to practical, real world answer to your hypothetical. You asked if B was shot and bleeding to death, did A have a moral duty to assist. A real world example was what I was trying to give you - which results in my answer; maybe yes, maybe no. And contrary to your opinion, it has everything to do with he question you asked, and it should not be that hard to understand. Your good guy, while they are defending themselves, has an obligation to follow the Magisterium, which at this point says that the death penalty is inadmissible; that does not go to self defense, but rather to State executions. So he may shoot B’ if he misses and B surrenders, A then shooting B would be murder, not the death penalty.There is no immediate threat, so self defense no longer applies.


Punishment has four objectives: retribution, rehabilitation, protection, and deterrence, and of those four retribution is primary.

2266 …The primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense.


Thank you!


You are assuming that “redress the disorder caused by the offense” means divine retribution but the Church makes clear that it refers to the disorder impacting the common good.


Thou Shalt Not Kill. The answer is very straight forward in my opinion.


Wrong. Ten characters.


You keep making this argument and I keep agreeing with it. What part of yes won’t you accept? The question has never been whether a punishment should advance the common good, but has always been whether this particular punishment in this particular circumstance advances it or not. Again, that is a judgment about which people may legitimately disagree; it is not a moral choice.

I use words to mean exactly what they say in the context in which I use them. All the rest is your personal interpretation.

Does “authentic Church teaching” include the catechism? because I cited the catechism flatly contradicting your interpretation.

I think most of us can accept that prayer is virtuous, which according to you would mean any act of prayer ought to be good. The catechism however shows that this is not so. You even cited the passage saying this so how can you contradict it and claim that “an act that stems from virtue is always good”? If the intent is bad the act is bad regardless of how good the object is.


I accept that there can be legitimate prudential objections to the use of capital punishment. I reject the idea that there is a legitimate moral objection.

No, I agree that its use in particular situations might be harmful. That is not the same as saying it can legitimately be abolished because that assumes that there are no situations where its use would be beneficial. I don’t accept that.

What you term voodoo logic is nothing more than citing what the church has taught for 2000 years.

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