The death penalty - right or wrong


I’m anti-death penalty because:

  1. Legal reason: it is difficult to impossible to impose the death penalty fairly (one person will get death for a crime that another person or even their “partner in crime” doesn’t get death for) and be absolutely certain you are not executing an innocent or less culpable person.

  2. Economic reason: Unless you are in some kind of extreme wartime situation calling for/ facilitating quick executions, the process needed to execute a person is so long and costly that it far exceeds the benefits of the execution. Based on my personal experiences with and knowledge of death row inmates, the death penalty also has little, if any, deterrent value.

  3. Moral reason: Pro-life means pro-all life, even lives of people you really, really don’t like. Jesus loves them too though he doesn’t love what they did.


If pro-life really meant all life then we would no longer be allowed to kill in self defense nor would there ever be any such thing as a just war, not if pro-life means no killing under any circumstances. This is not a position the church has ever taken.


The death penalty is not only licit in theory, refusing to apply it where called for is a sin that “crieth out unto heaven.” At the final judgment, the throngs will include both murderers and people who fought to peremptorily preserve any murderer whatsoever from condign punishment. Quite frankly, I’m not sure who I’d less rather be.


Your response is not reflecting common sense. I will leave it at that because I know from many past Internet experiences that debating the death penalty online is fruitless. It’s the “Hitler” of thread topics. I simply responded to the OP’s question and am not interested in further discussion.


The Church has confirmed that abolition of the death penalty around the world is a moral movement.

Pope Francis cites a “greater moral sensitivity regarding the value of human life,” to explain the position of the Catholic Church.

You aren’t disagreeing with the Church as a member of a nation debating the death penalty for your nation. Your ridiculous claim is that no country even has the right to abolish the death penalty based on a flawed belief that it is a divine command!

So lets test that out. I understand retribution to be redressing the disorder caused to the community as the Catechism says “defending public order and protecting people’s safety”.

Do you agree with these orthodox Catholic theologians?

Cardinal Dulles - “Retribution by the State has its limits because the State, unlike God, enjoys neither omniscience nor omnipotence. According to Christian faith, God “will render to every man according to his works” at the final judgment (Romans 2:6; cf. Matthew 16:27). Retribution by the State can only be a symbolic anticipation of God’s perfect justice.”

Thomas Aquinas - “All who sin mortally are deserving of eternal death, as regards future retribution, which is in accordance with the truth of the divine judgment. But the punishments of this life are more of a medicinal character”.

Aquinas wasn’t speaking of acts. He was speaking the the virtues as intrinsically good. We can all clearly see that it is you that reject the Catechism.


What was moral yesterday cannot be immoral today. Circumstances may change so that what was beneficial before is harmful now, but predicting the effect of an act is a judgment call, not a moral choice.

1958 The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history…

I’m not disagreeing with the church at all. Mostly I’m disagreeing with the arguments presented to support the idea that capital punishment is immoral.

If the claim is ridiculous it is because you invented it and ascribed it to me.

Nowhere does the catechism say that. These are your words and putting quotation marks around them doesn’t actually make them part of the catechism.

Aquinas might not have been speaking of acts, but you were:

An act that stems from virtue is always good. (Post #50)

This statement is simply wrong, as I showed by citing a comment that is actually in the catechism.

I reject your interpretation of the catechism, but that’s hardly the same thing.


I am new here to this site. I am confused. I joined this group in the hopes of finding out the truths of some questions I have. One is about the death penalty. I’ve always been passionately pro-life and that include(d) being against the death penalty. I know that the question was presented as asking for other people’s opinions but … what IS the truth? Reading other’s views only confuses the matter. Thanks!


The pope is infallible when he declares moral truths. Nobody has the authority to question him. Every deliberate disbelief in the doctrines of the Church is a sin.


Not quite.

…popes can, in a single extraordinary act, assert something with infallible certitude sufficient to bind the faithful in belief or morals (Canon 749 § 1), no pope can, by a single ordinary act, assert something with anything like the equivalent force for Christian consciences. (Ed Peters)

No one is suggesting that Francis’ comments on the death penalty were an example of an extraordinary act - of an infallible statement.

Perhaps so, but disagreement with prudential judgments is not.

There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty (Cardinal Ratzinger, 2004)


I will try to be clearer. If executions are forbidden because “pro-life means pro-all life” then why would killing in war and in self defense not also be forbidden for the same reason? How can we justify some killings but not others if we are to be “pro-all life”?


Yes, and it wasn’t only for murder that the death penalty was commanded by God in the Law he gave to the ancient Israelites through Moses. The death penalty was also ordained for various other crimes and sins such as adultery, cursing father and mother, profanation of the Sabbath by doing work on it, idolatry. But, the Law also prescribed that no one was to be put to death except on the evidence of two or three witnesses and that the hand of the witnesses were to be the first to strike the blow in the death of the guilty party. The cases were brought before judges in their various towns, like a court system, that were appointed by the Israelite leaders such as when Moses did in Exodus 18: 13-27. Moses took on the more difficult cases or disputes and I believe that carried over after Moses’ death to like a supreme court of the Levites or priests in Jerusalem or the king himself such as is recorded about king Solomon. The repentant thief crucified beside Jesus and inspired by the grace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, says that he and the other criminal crucified with Jesus are justly receiving the due reward of their deeds.

IMO, besides various cases murder, there are other crimes that are so heinous that they deserve capital punishment such as human trafficking especially of children and used for prostitution. I was listening recently on Fox news to a man who is doing wonderful work rescuing children, teenage girls, as well as young adult women from human traffickers. He talked about a case where they recently rescued a girl in New York I believe it was who was kidnapped in Latin America when she was 13, smuggled across the southern US border, and forced into prostitution for five years, violated and raped 30-40 times a day, before she was rescued. And this is not just a rare case, the man said, but happens all the time among kidnapped children and young girls forced into prostitution and all over the world. IMO, the human traffickers involved in such unspeakable crimes deserve a sentence of immediate capital punishment.


You never answer when someone reminds you that slavery was moral yesterday and is immoral today.

Furthermore the Catechism goes on…

1959 The natural law, the Creator’s very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community. Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draws conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature.

Aquinas provides the theology. (ST I II 94 Art.5)

A change in the natural law may be understood in two ways. First, by way of addition. In this sense nothing hinders the natural law from being changed: since many things for the benefit of human life have been added over and above the natural law, both by the Divine law and by human laws.

Secondly, a change in the natural law may be understood by way of subtraction, so that what previously was according to the natural law, ceases to be so. In this sense, the natural law is altogether unchangeable in its first principles: **but in its secondary principles, which, as we have said (Article 4), are certain detailed proximate conclusions drawn from the first principles, the natural law is not changed so that what it prescribes be not right in most cases. But it may be changed in some particular cases of rare occurrence, through some special causes hindering the observance of such precepts, as stated above (Article 4).**

The written law is said to be given for the correction of the natural law, either because it supplies what was wanting to the natural law; or because the natural law was perverted in the hearts of some men, as to certain matters, so that they esteemed those things good which are naturally evil; which perversion stood in need of correction.

Cardinal Dulles writes of the perversion that is now in need of correction concerning ‘retribution’.

For the symbolism to be authentic, the society must believe in the existence of a transcendent order of justice, which the State has an obligation to protect. This has been true in the past, but in our day the State is generally viewed simply as an instrument of the will of the governed. In this modern perspective, the death penalty expresses not the divine judgment on objective evil but rather the collective anger of the group. The retributive goal of punishment is misconstrued as a self-assertive act of vengeance.


You give the impression of knowing this section of the Catechism very well so don’t try and deceive others.

CCC2266 …Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party

The Catechism clearly equates “redressing the disorder introduced by the offense” to mean “defending public order and protecting people’s safety”

No the statement is not wrong. It perfectly conforms with Aquinas’ explanation that the virtues are gifts of God and can never result in an act of evil.

“One can make bad use of a virtue objectively, for instance by having evil thoughts about a virtue, e.g. by hating it, or by being proud of it: but one cannot make bad use of virtue as principle of action, so that an act of virtue be evil.” (ST I II 55 art.4)


It is be true that what was believed to be moral yesterday can be believed immoral today, but I don’t think the case of slavery makes your point. If you want to argue that the church was mistaken on capital punishment before, and only just last year got it right, then you have to accept that every Doctor of the Church and virtually every Father of the Church was wrong (Tertullian opposed it, but he was excommunicated so he’s not the best reference). Every pope prior to Francis was wrong. Every catechism and every council was wrong. Slavery presents no such problem.

Actually, in your citation Dulles explained that it is “this modern perspective”, which has lost sight of the true nature of punishment, that misconstrues the truth.


I do know it very well, and since it is the position I accept I would have no reason to distort what it says.

No, it doesn’t. Once again, punishment has four separate objectives: retribution, defense, rehabilitation, and deterrence. Preventing offenses in the future has nothing whatever to do with redressing the disorder caused by offenses in the past. This theory was explicitly rejected by Pius XII:

Most of the modern theories of penal law explain penalty and justify it in the final analysis as a means of protection… but those theories fail to consider the expiation of the crime committed, which penalizes the violation of the law as the prime function of penalty

The first part of his statement proves my contention while the second part proves yours. We are arguing different things.


Once again your failure to accept the truth that slavery was once moral and is now immoral in both the eyes of society and the eyes of the Church, sends you scrambling to distort my argument. It is ironic that you consistently accuse others of misrepresenting you!

Commentary on the Politics, (Aquinas)

It is advantageous for slaves and masters, fit to be such by nature, that one be the
master, and the other the slave. And so there can be friendship between them,
since the association of both in what is advantageous for each is the essence of
friendship (1.4.11).

Subjection is twofold. One is servile, by virtue of which a superior makes use of
a subject for his own benefit, and this kind of subjection began after sin. There is
another kind of subjection, which is called economic or civil, whereby the
superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good; and this kind of
subjection existed even before sin (ST I 92, 1).

Considered absolutely, the fact that this particular man should be a slave rather
than another man, is based, not on natural reason, but on some resultant utility, in
that it is useful to this man to be ruled by a wiser man, and to the latter to be
helped by the former, as the Philosopher states (Politics I.2) (ST II II 57 3)

Slavery was not just ‘believed’ to moral. It was accepted as moral by society and the Church. When it became obvious to society and the Church that it was no longer practiced in a way that truly served the common good, it was recognised as immoral.

The ‘end’ of human law, was, is and always be the common good.


Dulles acknowledges that the State has always had its limits. There is no place for it to ever ‘be God’.

Retribution by the State has its limits because the State, unlike God, enjoys neither omniscience nor omnipotence. According to Christian faith, God “will render to every man according to his works” at the final judgment (Romans 2:6; cf. Matthew 16:27). Retribution by the State can only be a symbolic anticipation of God’s perfect justice.

You don’t seem to realise that the perversion that Cardinal Dulles is referring to, is the argument that you are making. The Church has only had to step in with firm teaching in response to that perversion. The fact is that the death penalty has been progressively abolished across the world as society seeks to self heal from the wounds of that perversion. The Church has found no reason to intervene until now but in fact has had to specifically state that it is the result of “growing moral sensitivity”.


If this were a poll I would vote ‘wrong’. Not that I haven’t seen, in my lifetime, some very heinous criminal acts, and those have been dispatched are in no way missed. My concern is always that if one innocent is put to death by mistake, then we must find a way to ensure the incarceration of all without the looming penalty of death. In Canada we have no death penalty and I have never felt the need to say we are worse off because of it. But neither would I join a march to abolish it where it exists.


I was around 13 when I first learned that we had a death penalty. My mom tried to explain that many people felt that a murderer should be sentenced to be murdered (she was anti death penalty even back then…1965ish). My question then was, “should rapists be raped? Should thiefs have all their stuff stolen?”

I have always been against the death penalty even when I was too young to understand the nuance of the arguments.


I think that, in theory, the Death Penalty is right. Some people commit crimes so heinous and terrible that they deserve to die.

In practice however, it’s harder to support it when so many Death Row inmates have been exonerated by DNA evidence.

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