Capital Punishment

Rooted in the Common good, the Catholic Church has tolerated capital punishment when it protects society from violent criminals and dangerous influences.

While Catholics are discouraged from participating in the practice, the civil state does have the authority to carry out the death penalty for horrible crimes or unjust aggression.

The Church has never considered the death penalty to be something good. All human life has value and even criminals have human dignity.

But unlike abortion or euthanasia where the taking of an innocent life is always wrong, capital punishment is not intrinsically evil.

The Church has never endorsed the death penalty for vengeance or as a deterrent. Only as a means of preserving life and order in civil society has it been allowed.

Recent popes and Catholic bishops have expressed increasing opposition to the death penalty and emphasize that more effective methods of incarceration and rehabilitation now exist.

Keeping people safe:

Balancing justice and mercy:

For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.

Romans 13: 3-4

Capital punishment is not intrinsically evil:

Prioritization of pro-life issues:

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, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. 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 of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the 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.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267

A evil tolerated by the Church:

The teaching of the Church has not changed:

This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God’s plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is “to redress the disorder caused by the offence”. Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people’s safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated. It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

Pope John Paul II, Evangeliu Vitae, 25 March 1995

Allowing time for repentance:

Searching for the image of God:

The Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of the Catholic Church

Transformed by the renewal of our minds:

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