Why the revised CCC 2267 is NOT a condemnation or contradiction of the historical Church’s teaching


Within the course of the past 24 hours, many have come forward with varying accusations regarding the revision, chief among which is the claim that the revision flies in the face of the historical Church, the Old Testament, etc. In order to adequately refute these claims, it is necessary to turn first to the letter issued by the CDF to the bishops, and then to the revision itself:

If, in fact, the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes, and the development of more efficacious detention systems that guarantee the due protection of citizens have given rise to a new awareness that recognizes the inadmissibility of the death penalty, and, therefore, calling for its abolition.

This passage tells us quite explicitly that the inadmissibility of the death penalty in today’s society is linked to the development of effective ways of keeping criminals away from society. Because we are capable of locking criminals away for the remainder of their lives, and because we are capable of preventing their escape (for the most part), the death penalty is not only unnecessary, it is inadmissible. However, this very passage recognizes the fact that this has not always been the case, and that our predecessors were not wrong for taking the measures that they took, because there was no way of guaranteeing the safety of society from the offending persons. Moving on:

  1. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, while extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

This recognizes the fact that the death penalty has historically been accepted.

In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection citizens, but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

This passage here reinforces the point I was making earlier, namely that what was acceptable in the past is no longer valid because we have developed to the point where execution is unnecessary for the protection of human lives.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

The Church is committed to the abolition of a practice which she has deemed no longer necessary for the public good. She has not condemned its usage in history, but has instead acknowledged its place in time, and cemented its acceptability under those circumstances.


Worth noting is that, while I myself do not personally agree with the change, believing that it is short-sighted and narrow-minded, I nevertheless submit myself to this teaching. That does not mean that I believe in it, but only that I submit myself to it. However, to me this development seems, and I truly can’t stress this enough, narrow-minded and short-sighted. While it is true that the usage of the death penalty is wholly unnecessary in the developed world of today, there is an argument to be made that it may still be necessary in parts of the third world. Furthermore, what is true of today is not necessarily true of tomorrow, as history shows. Civilization may not, and in fact almost certainly will not, remain at this advanced stage forever. There may again come a time when we will be unable to guarantee the public’s safety from criminals, in which case it would seemingly become necessary to use the death penalty again.


Your analysis was close to the impression I got from reading the text of the new 2267 and the letter from the CDF as well as well as reading the old 2267.

However, I differ in that I was and am against the death penalty. I personally do not believe in using lethal force unless it is absolutely the only way to protect yourself or innocent people.


I agree.

Personally, while I totally believe the death penalty is over used in many parts of the United States, I do think there are some criminals who are too dangerous to be kept alive.

  • some criminal bosses run crime empires still from behind bars
  • some prisons are known for their gang recruitment
  • some criminals break the law from in prison
  • some terrorists are too dangerous to be kept alive
  • some crimes, like treason, terrorism, & war crimes are too disastrous to not have a death penalty option


We don’t differ at all then! I am totally against the death penalty unless it is absolutely 100% necessary to guarantee public safety.


I’m not entirely sold on the idea that the death penalty is entirely warranted for crimes like treason. Terrorism? Yes, if there was no hope of adequately containing the offender. But loyalty to the state shouldn’t be a condition for life in my mind.


Is the death penalty moral or immoral?


I think that the teaching says it is inadmissable.


so admissible/inadmissible = moral/immoral?


There needed to be an acknowledgement of the fact that this penalty is not unjust or contrary to the natural law or revelation strictly as a matter of retribution and expiation, but that the circumstantial factors make it no longer conducive to the common good. The CDF letter tries to go down this path, but then makes a leap to an absolutist statement with a bald assertion of “development.” I don’t see any bridge to that conclusion.


I don’t think inadmissable equals immoral though. That’s an entirely separate debate, and one which I am in no way qualified to attempt to argue


I live in a country where at its height the criminal law included some 220 crimes punishable by death, including “being in the company of Gypsies for one month”, “strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7–14 years of age” and “blacking the face or using a disguise whilst committing a crime”.

The last person to be killed here by capital punishment was in 1964 .

Thankfully in 1965 the Abolition of Death Penalty Act took effect .


The historical analysis you have quoted here makes a lot of sense. Even so, it may not have been a good idea to rewrite bits of the CCC. I suspect that at some future date the Church may come to the conclusion that it overstepped the line between that which is Caesar’s and that which is God’s.


I wholeheartedly agree. I believe that the next pontiff will probably (hopefully) take steps to press the rewind button on this one.


How is it a separate debate? Words matter and something as important as what has happened which affects religious beliefs and political ideology needs to be able to withstand scrutiny.


Words matter and something as important as what has happened which affects religious beliefs and political ideology needs to be able to withstand scrutiny.

I agree. I’m just saying that debating the morality of the death penalty isn’t something I was trying to address with this post, just the assertion that it was contradictory to Church teaching. I’m not qualified to debate whether it is immoral or not, and I don’t think that the revision denounces it as immoral. In that respect, it is separate from the debate I was trying to have here: being the contradictory nature of the revision

I’ll leave the morality of the death sentence to people who know more about it


Genesis 9:5-6.

Edit to add: Malachi 3:6, Romans 3:4.



Good analyses, but four points of major contention still remain, which were not pointed out. There are other lesser points, but I will focus on these four. This is not something I’m specifically asking you to address, but just something I would like to point out and throw out there.

  1. The statement that the death penalty violates a human’s dignity. What exactly is human dignity, and how is that dignity violated by capital punishment administered by a court of law? Would other punishments, or possibly acts of self defense, not violate human dignity? And then, if such other acts do not, then how does a judgment of capital punishment violate human dignity, compared to those other acts?

  2. The facts, studies or sources that show and prove that the death penalty is indeed not necessary or needed anymore, or that modern technology or modern infrastructure makes the death penalty useless or invalid today. And can the world at whole in fact make sufficient and adequate changes to make the death penalty unnecessary in all cases? How is that even possible or realistic, let alone practical in a modern world full of constant wars?

  3. The statement that the “The death penalty, regardless of the means of execution, “entails cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”” Exactly how so? Is a lesser punishment like life in prison not degrading? Is putting an inmate inside an isolated hole for years, with only one hour of day light, no contact with the outside world, not cruel? Should any and all punishments that are to be newly considered as cruel and degrading be now invalid? It seems to me that a new, unfounded, corrupted concept of cruel and inhumane in relation to punishments for criminals is being introduced. Are we to believe that not only doctrines can be better understood over time (which I’m not against), but that words and basic concepts can now also be evolved to fit a certain political or social position?

  4. And lastly, but not least, if this letter is not an act of infallibility by the Pope, is it not possible that this letter may in fact be in error concerning many things? And since the Church itself has said the Catechism is not infallible, is it not appropriate for others, like myself, to continue to debate and address these concerns if we believe they conflict with church dogma and holy tradition?


But the question of morality is central to whether there has been a change or contradiction in a teaching, no?


Considering that, to the best of my knowledge, the Church has never made a definitive pronouncement on whether or not the death penalty is moral or immoral, I’d say no in this case. If you do know of an instance where the Church made such a statement then I’d love to hear it (sincerely, I’m not trying to be sarcastic).

What’s more, even if the Church did say that it was moral, this wouldn’t be a contradiction with the revision, as the revision doesn’t address the morality of the death penalty, it simply says it’s inadmissible in light of the alternatives available to us in this modern age

inadmissible does not = immoral

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