What is the Catholic Church's stance on The Death Penalty?

Does the church condone or condemn executions?

Short answer: They are allowable in certain circumstances, and should be avoided outside of that. There’s a lot of debate over whether those circumstances exist in modern first-world countries.

This is the relevant section of the catechism:

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. 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.67

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.

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 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 nonexistent."68

I would suggest that in the case of a criminal boss who remains capable of ordering murders from within a prison and cannot be stopped any other way… or an inmate who murders other inmates or guards… These may be possible examples of qualifying conditions

but that’s just playing “devils advocate”

Its a tough question.

The CCC is “squishy” at best, in that it says if there are other means (besides death) to prevent a person from doing harm to others, that should be done…but also says it is not ruled out…and then still concedes that situations where it is absolutely necessary is “very rare”…and also, correctly points out that the trouble with capital punishment is that it eliminates the possibility of redemption of the criminal.

Personally, I am against it, as I am against the ending of life by man for any reason, because of the sanctity of human life.

Scripturally, I think the anti-capital punishment argument is supported by Ezekiel Chapter 33, where we are reminded that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but in their conversion.

And, I see no way to defend capital punishment, especially if the argument for it in any way suggests the reason is for vengeance or retribution, which sadly is the sentiment we see in most arguments in favor of putting someone to death.

My understanding of the teaching is that the death penalty should not be used to save tax payers money.

As a previous poster commented, the death penalty should be reserved for individuals which pose a danger to society either in or out of jail.

Extreme example: terrorist leaders or jailed, renegade leaders of hostile nations. If Bin Laden or Hitler were in jail (instead of dead), the public would still be in danger from them being behind bars. Some people (though rare) are too dangerous to be in jail.

God Bless.

The church has throughout her entire history recognized that states have the right to use the death penalty as the punishment for certain crimes. It is only in the last 40 years or so that some have come out against its use, and the question is: is the relevant section of the new catechism a prudential objection or is it new doctrine? It isn’t at all clear but to me the stronger argument is that the objection is practical, not moral.

Personally, I am against it, as I am against the ending of life by man for any reason, because of the sanctity of human life.

The irony of this argument is that one of the passages that explains the source of the sanctity of life (that man is made in the image of God) does so by using that as the explanation for why the life of a murderer is forfeit.For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning… Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. (Gn 9:5-6)

And, I see no way to defend capital punishment, especially if the argument for it in any way suggests the reason is for vengeance or retribution…

What is the primary objective of all punishment, and what is the obligation of the state in regard to the punishment of the guilty? The primary objective is retribution, retributive justice. This is all that vengeance is, and the state has a positive obligation to impose it.Vengeance consists in the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned. (Aquinas, ST II-II 108,1)
Ender

The CCC section 2267 seems pretty clear. (second post)

That’s the Church’s stance.

No death penalty, unless it is the ONLY way to prevent more harm.

‘Only’ is a pretty tough word to reach in most circumstances, as the last few lines of 2267 note.

Say a government owns millions of acres of land that it’s not currently using, can it claim the ‘Only’ way is the DP?

I used to think the DP was great, but to live Catholicism is to assume a heart can change and each beating one is worth the worlds wieght in gold.

The horrible dilemma is, if we acknowledge there are cases of “only” which justify the death penalty, we are de facto claiming there is also a minute “only” which would justify abortion.

Of course the unborn should never have their lives taken, but neither should the born.

Life is valuable, no matter who attained it, for it come only from the almighty.

Therefore, justice is God’s, not ours.

Just as St. Paul tells us the worst of days on earth do not compare to the gloriousness of heaven, the taking the life of even the most hardened sociopathic killer will not compare to the agony he potentially faces as a result of the final judgment, so why bother?

The short answer is that the Church does not support the death penalty but accepts in rare instances it might be necessary.

When the death penalty was abolished here in the Philippines the Church publicly rejoiced at this good news.

Father Pacwa discussed this one day on ETWN. The Death Penalty and Abortion are not the same at all.

The Death Penalty (when morally applied) protects the innocents from the evil CHOICES a criminal / terrorist is making.

Abortion is an immoral choice someone is making to kill an innocent.

God Bless

There is no case where abortion is acceptable because it is intrinsically evil. Capital punishment, on the contrary, is not. The objection to capital punishment appears based on the judgment that it causes more problems than it solves - in current societies. There have always been times when the use of capital punishment was opposed not because it was immoral but because it was unwise in the circumstances.

Life is valuable, no matter who attained it, for it come only from the almighty.

And it was the almighty himself who set the penalty for murder. Are we to ignore his command?

Ender

How about section 2260; is this not clear as well? Is it not also the church’s stance?
The covenant between God and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God’s gift of human life and man’s murderous violence:*
*[INDENT]For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning… Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.
The Old Testament always considered blood a sacred sign of life. This teaching remains necessary for all time.
[/INDENT]

No death penalty, unless it is the ONLY way to prevent more harm.

The problem with this interpretation is that it makes the prevention of future crimes more important than the just punishment of past crimes, but the primary objective of punishment is retribution, not protection. It really is difficult to understand how it can be just to execute a person for threatening to commit a crime you hold it to be wrong to execute him for actually committing. How can the punishment for the threat be more serious than the punishment for the crime?

Ender

Here’s the deal. One thing we can hang our hat on is that the Church does not, can not contradict itself.

If it did, it would not exist, as it would be shown a liar.

Thus. I think 2267 is pretty straight forward, everyone can understand the word ‘only’.

Where 2260 is not clear. Are you interpreting the CCC, or did you confirm with the Vatican what is meant by Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.

We also need to consider text in light of the whole, peeling 2260 away from 2267 can cause confusion. Together 2267 helps one understand what is meant by 2260.

Since the Church cannot contradict itself, I do not think the bold means what you think it means.

Perhaps it means that person has condemned himself and needs a serious repent - aka - Thou shalt not kill. Or perhaps it ties right into 2267 and means the guilty shall be put away, they still have their blood in them, but their ‘shedding’ might be solitary confinement.

Anyway. We are not to interpret, we are to understand.

Certainly it could be said that more teaching and understanding is needed.

But be confident in the fact that the Church does not contradict, itself.

There would be no point to being Catholic, if it did.

With regard to your logic here, you walked right into the Church’s point…

“It really is difficult to understand how it can be just to execute a person for threatening to commit a crime you hold it to be wrong to execute him for actually committing.”

Thus the DP is an extremely hard punishment to defend - especially as noted in most of today’s societies.

Thus the Church’s teaching on essentially - ‘no’ to the death penalty. But leaving room because each situation is different.

If we lived in a small amazon community where there was no one for hundreds of miles and one of our member went nuts, killed a few people. We have no jail. If we cast him out, he might kill again, us or others…

Maybe that’s an appropriate use of the DP.

Thats not really a good way to say that. The Church is infallible on faith and morals. Example Abortion is an intrinsic evil, that will never change.

On things that are less than intrinsic evil how pastorally they are dealt with CAN change. If you go back and look at Church history on this very subject (Capitol Punishment) its quite clear this is the case.

Innocent I
It must be remembered that power was granted by God [to the magistrates], and to avenge crime by the sword was permitted. He who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister (Rm 13:1-4). Why should we condemn a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? We uphold, therefore, what has been observed until now, in order not to alter the discipline and so that we may not appear to act contrary to God’s authority.
(Innocent 1, Epist. 6, C. 3. 8, ad Exsuperium, Episcopum Tolosanum,
20 February 405, PL 20,495)

Innocent III

The secular power can without mortal sin carry out a sentence of death, provided it proceeds in imposing the penalty not from hatred but with judgment, not carelessly but with due solicitude.
(Innocent III, DS 795/425)

Pius XII

Even in the case of the death penalty the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. Rather public authority limits itself to depriving the offender of the good of life in expiation for his guilt, after he, through his crime, deprived himself of his own right to life.
(Pius XII, Address to the First International Congress of Histopathology
of the Nervous System, 14 September 1952, XIV, 328)

Catechism of the Council of Trent

The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives.

In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8).

It was previously taught that Capital Punishment was for the salvation of the soul of the convicted, not just the protection of society. It provided some temporal punishment for their crimes as well as giving motive to repent, seek confession and die in grace. The idea of capital punishment being unnecessary if there were other bloodless means was not part of the equation as the punishment itself was seen as medicine to the soul. A long life in prison was in no way seen as the beneficial to the accused. It can be argued this is a departure and a contradiction to the 1950 years of teaching prior. Perhaps this is why Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) said this:

While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

Thanks for the reply.

We were not discussing change over time, it was seemingly contradiction 7 lines (paragraphs) apart in the book that is the instruction booklet for the Church’s members.

To hold the instruction booklet for the Church as non-contradictory, inclusive, would be logical.

Thus the need to understand the true meaning behind what seems like a contradiction 7 lines apart.

Indeed. Sanctity of human life is much better shown when we don’t have the death penalty.

And, I see no way to defend capital punishment, especially if the argument for it in any way suggests the reason is for vengeance or** retribution**, which sadly is the sentiment we see in most arguments in favor of putting someone to death.

Why is this?

What is unclear is the nature of the teaching in 2267: is it a new doctrine or is it a prudential judgment? I agree with you though, the church does not contradict herself and it is indeed necessary to reconcile both passages in a meaningful way.

Where 2260 is not clear. Are you interpreting the CCC, or did you confirm with the Vatican what is meant by Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.

This passage means exactly what it says and is as clear as anything can be. It’s plain meaning is also how the church has always interpreted it. * If the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millennia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture (notably in Genesis 9:5-6 and Romans 13:1-4). *(Cardinal Dulles)

Perhaps it means that person has condemned himself and needs a serious repent - aka - Thou shalt not kill. Or perhaps it ties right into 2267 and means the guilty shall be put away, they still have their blood in them, but their ‘shedding’ might be solitary confinement.

Anyway. We are not to interpret, we are to understand.

Your approach requires the obvious meaning of 2260 to be twisted into something that can be conformed to 2267. My approach, by assuming 2267 is prudential, allows them both to stand exactly as written. 2260 is the rule; 2267 is the exception to the rule that the pope believed was best applied in modern circumstances.

Ender

Yes, the church does say there are almost no situations where the conditions for using the death penalty would be met … but she recognizes at least theoretically that possibility. So deal with it. How do you justify executing someone who is a threat to commit murder if it is not justifiable to execute him for actually committing one? How does the threat of the crime deserve a more severe punishment than the crime itself?

If we lived in a small amazon community where there was no one for hundreds of miles and one of our member went nuts, killed a few people. We have no jail. If we cast him out, he might kill again, us or others…

Maybe that’s an appropriate use of the DP.

OK, let’s take this situation. You are justifying executing someone because of the threat he poses in the future and not because he deserves to be executed for a crime committed in the past. This is how dangerous animals are treated, not men. You have removed him from the sphere of morality entirely by not holding him accountable for his actions and simply treating him like some dangerous predator like a jaguar or a python. This position is not morally supportable.

Ender

I think this is a pastoral (prudential) teaching as well and does not represent a change in doctrine, and there is good reason to believe the doctrine will in fact never change. *There are certain moral norms that have always and everywhere been held by the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Although never formally defined, they are irreversibly binding on the followers of Christ until the end of the world. Such moral truths are the grave sinfulness of contraception and direct abortion. Such, too, is the Catholic doctrine which defends the imposition of the death penalty. *(Fr. John Hardon)

It was previously taught that Capital Punishment was for the salvation of the soul of the convicted, not just the protection of society. It provided some temporal punishment for their crimes as well as giving motive to repent, seek confession and die in grace. The idea of capital punishment being unnecessary if there were other bloodless means was not part of the equation as the punishment itself was seen as medicine to the soul.

Yes, it is a matter of justice. The primary objective of punishment is *“to redress the disorder caused by the offense.” *(CCC 2266)the act of sin makes man deserving of punishment, in so far as he transgresses the order of Divine justice, to which he cannot return except he pay some sort of penal compensation, which restores him to the equality of justice (Aquinas)
Ender

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