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The Holy Father is clearly opposed to the death penalty; but why doesn’t the Church oppose it as unequivocally as abortion and euthanasia?

It’s a real question: I simply don’t understand

By on Friday, 2 December 2011

The execution room in the US state of Oregon. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984, two death row inmates have been killed by lethal injection (Photo: PA)

The execution room in the US state of Oregon. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984, two death row inmates have been killed by lethal injection (Photo: PA)

I was glad to see the Holy Father, the other day, putting his weight behind those who are campaigning for the worldwide ending of the death penalty: on Wednesday, to a major international meeting which took place under the sponsorship of the Sant’Egidio Community, aimed at eliminating capital punishment, he made clear his approval of this intention:

I greet the distinguished delegations from various countries taking part in the meeting promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio on the theme: No Justice without Life. I express my hope that your deliberations will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.

I am bound to say that I don’t quite understand how any Catholic who is opposed to abortion and euthanasia (as all Catholics should be, though some, incomprehensibly to me – like the late Senator Teddy Kennedy – are apparently not) could be in favour of this equally deliberate taking of human life. I believe in democracy; but whenever I remember that in this country, if a referendum were held to decide the matter this barbaric punishment would almost certainly be restored, my belief falters. And I have to say, that greatly though (after many visits to different parts of the land of the free, covering destinations from Houston to Anchorage, Detroit to Los Angeles) I love America and the American people, I have to say that the way in which the death penalty is actually handed down and then carried out in some states in that great country (usually after many years on death row, often longer than a life sentence for murder here) leads me unavoidably to feelings about the American judicial system which are considerably less than respectful (I have other reasons for these feelings, into which I will not go here).

So what is Catholic teaching about capital punishment? I had in my simple way supposed that the Church today had come to the mind that it was wrong under all circumstances: but such is not apparently the case. This is how the Pope explained the matter when he was prefect of the CDF:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. 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.

The late Holy Father, in Evangelium Vitae, made clear his own view, that this was a punishment rightly on the way out: “There is,” he wrote, “evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of ‘legitimate defence’ on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform.” However, he continued, “it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.” But, he went on, “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.”

And now we come to the point at which I don’t quite understand the apparently equivocal way in which we have been taught by the Church’s highest pastors. And when I say “I don’t understand”, I mean just that: not, as these words so often indicate “surely anyone of the meanest intelligence can see I’m right”. I have a real question, to which I would be grateful for the answer. If, as the late Holy Father implies here, the abolition of the death penalty would be “more in line with human dignity and… with God’s plan for man and society”, why doesn’t the Church simply say that God’s plan for man and human society demands the abolition of the the death penalty? How is it ever necessary? Under what circumstances, for instance, does “the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm” ever “[involve] taking his life”?

Saif Al-Islam Gadaffi, for instance – who has certainly been the cause of many deaths and other untold harm – since he will be tried in Libya rather than at the Hague will almost certainly in the end be hanged by the neck until he is dead. But in what way would a life sentence handed down at the Hague make him any less incapable of causing any further harm? I suppose it could be argued that alive he might continue to be a rallying point for Gadaffi supporters (of whom there are still undoubtedly a good number). It’s just that I simply can’t get over the cold-blooded awfulness of deliberately bringing a man from his cell to a place where there is a gibbet and then with the full authority of the state stringing him up: it seems to me that the state which does that is always thereby immeasurably diminished. “We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing,” said the US bishops in 1994. I would like to see that in the next edition of the Catechism. But who am I? What I feel about it (feel as much as think) was eloquently conveyed by another opponent of the death penalty, Dorothy L Sayers, at the very end of her greatest Peter Wimsey novel, Busman’s Honeymoon, which you can read on Gutenberg, here.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    I’m against the death penalty for moral reasons, and also because governments ought to be in the business of preserving (if not outrightly saving) their citizen’s lives, and not taking them. I also don’t see the death penalty as a deterrence to many of the crimes for which it is imposed in Western societies (the U.S., I suppose).

    However, no country which has legalised killing of the unborn can mount a logical opposition to the death penalty, and I would argue that in fact, it can’t actually mount a logical position for the death penalty either.

    In the first instance, if the most innocent of life is not protected by law, then we ought to ask ourselves whether it is right that people who are ‘guilty as sin’ should be spared of the same cruelty shown to those who only happen to be “unwanted”, as opposed to cruel. In the second instance, if a country does not protect the most innocent of the innocent, then it has not the moral authority to punish those who take life at a later stage.

    There is some consistency in a country which outlaws the killing of the unborn but has the death penalty for certain crimes – as in many Muslim states – because there is obviously a big difference between punishing the guilty and killing the defenceless. There might also be other things which can be deterred through the use of the death penalty – and I don’t consider murder to be among them -, such as selling drugs, and treason – where the offender will make a cost/benefit analysis.
    We also have to deal with the fact that prisons cost money (especially modern luxury prisons), and unless you want to impose a labour-camp-style approach to prison – as they do in China – then we run into a moral issue: is it right to keep dangerous and obviously guilty prisoners warm and well-fed while old people die from the cold and others die in hospitals from a lack of doctors, medicine, or attention? Some would say “no”, and I would not chastise them for that.

    The only purely logical stance from a society which values life is that life should be protected from conception to natural death, but that those who take the lives of others or destroy them willingly (through drugs or what not) should be punished very severely. I still don’t think we can deter people from killing others, but at least justice in many ways will be served by taking from offenders their basic freedoms – and they will still have a chance to repent and atone.

    But we ought not to bunch the killing of the unborn, the elderly or the defenceless into the same basket as the killing of guilty offenders – many of whom are killers themselves, or grave offenders against basic morality. The first is an absolute moral issue the second can be seen at best as a relative absolute (i.e., there might be a theoretical case for it). 

    I would much rather see you arguing against why there is not an absolute prohibition on war in the Catechism…Whatever arguments can be applied there can surely also be applied to the death penalty. Yet, strangely, a lot of people will throw away the “love thy enemy” command out of the window as soon as the enemy has a different skin tone, colour, creed or culture, including – regrettably – a lot of prominent Catholics.

    Regardless of the morality of the death penalty….I dread the fact that it will still be a civil government which will claim the ‘right’ to impose it, given that most of them have shown a hideous disregard for both the common good and human dignity.

  • http://twitter.com/DJPNicholls Daniel Nicholls

    I read somewhere (possibly at wdtprs.com) that one (rare) example in which the death penalty may be the only way to prevent a man from taking a life is the following:

    A man commits murder, and is locked up.  While in prison, he murders a fellow in-mate, and as a result is moved to a maximum security prison.  Despite this, he murders a guard in the maximum security prison.  Nothing that has been done has stopped him from murdering, and there is no higher-security prison in which to put him.  Therefore, the only way to prevent him from murdering a fourth time may be to execute him.

    I personally oppose the death penalty, but I can see why, in this instance, it may be considered necessary.

  • Nat_ons

    The overriding reason to oppose capital punishment by the State is, I suspect, that of charity not moral reasoning. All government has a moral duty – invested, theoretically, as a sovereign person (like Regina) – and that duty  .. as divinely appointed according to moral reason .. has the right to defence (within commensurate limits). Using the sword is part of a ruler’s rule – the penalty of death being ultimate in such threat, coercion and power – so, if one accepts moral reasoning as commensurate with revealed commandment and human legislation, capital punishment is admissible under natural law and divine order; taking an innocent life is not a commensurate use of this right, therefore it is unjust, hence it is no law at all: thus, in charity, Regina must admit to some reservations even on justly proven guilt (not all the facts may be known, some of this factual construction may be misunderstood, a few elements may not offer a true construction of the data available).

    Enslavement may still  be said to be a just punishment (even if we call it by another name). Binding a man with enforceable deprivations of social, civil and personal liberty – for a lifetime or under some determined sentence short of life – is just such a type of slavery in this reasonably argued punishment. However, slavery – in the broader commercial use of binding souls to loss of common liberties for gain – is contrary to the virtue of charity and as such commercial slavery is not admissible when applying the rule of moral reason in positive laws, which permits a loss of liberty as justifiable punishment (e.g. to protect the commonweal from the predation of a few); the same principle of moral reasoning may (indeed must) be applied in modern states to the ultimate sanction in just punishment: death.

    Very few would now clamour loudly for ‘slavery’ to be used or re-introduced, and the church catholic has at times struggled against its wildest excesses even while accepting its legitimate uses (in lawful restraint of the criminal, if not in commerce). That – and not killing the innocent – is the properly balanced equivalent being set out recently by the popes on the exercise of the sword to its final degree; after all, one cannot imprison an innocent man and yet deem oneself just, one may not deprive a freeman of his liberties without lawful reason and think oneself justified, and so, one ought not to level an indenture on a man simply because one can do so while asserting one’s use of justice .. charity, as a virtue, must intervene if right is to be observed. Here, to the admittedly odd workings of my mind, common sense demands that the limits of ‘ought’ must be set on ‘can’, if not on ‘is’, for the State is able justly to level the sword on the wrongdoer, it can justifiably apply this ultimate sanction, yet, it ought not to do so – if it need not, in self-defence; not because it cannot do so justly, nor because it is wrong so to do in good reason, but simply because out of love of neighbour, servant or citizen it need not do so (having other punishments less final or more corrective) .. and especially where doubt may best prevail in human judgements, which may fail in in even the simplest of cases let alone on the life and death of one accused of crime. 


  • Jonathan Manning

    Here are three suggestions in support of the status quo.

    I think JPII’s comments were made at a time when prosperity was rising and we had resources to imprison people for long periods of time.  It costs around £40,000 a year to keep someone in prison.  It  always sounds awful to put a value on human life but if you don’t have the money you can’t run the prisons.  Most of the world has never been rich enough to do this.  The way things are going we may not be able to do it for much longer.I also think you are underestimating the difficulty of building a society from scratch.  I am sure that the Church’s position is based on an institutional memory of civilising a barbarian world.  The safety of a law abiding society is of great service to our human dignity.  If you start from a position of poverty and with an overwhelming lack of individual morality the only way to build a society is to remove the dangerous people.  If or when the Italian state fails then the mafia will take over very quickly.  When they are killing thousands of people and the state is too weak to fight back then the Popes will endorse capital punishment again.

    Finally as a Catholic I think the Church is right not to forbid capital punishment because that is not in the deposit of faith that has been passed down to us.  The law that God gave to the Jewish people clearly calls for capital punishment.  Jesus taught against stoning the adulterous woman for  breaking religious law but was silent about executions under the civil law.  He was preaching to an occupied people and the occupiers were crucifying his audience and he didn’t condemn civil executions.  Silence can say a great deal.  Throughout history the Magisterium has accepted the power of the civil authority to execute criminals.  Popes have even signed death warrants.  If this teaching hasn’t come from Scripture or Tradition and is contradicted by the history of the Magisterium then by what right can it be introduced in to the Catholic Faith?

  • Robert

    The right (and duty) of the state to administer the death penalty is part of the deposit of Faith. See e.g. “society and sanity” by Frank Sheed. This does not mean it will always be prudent. It is not either a matter of endorsing this or that theory of justification for the death penalty. The point is that anyone who pertinaceously contests the right in principle of the state to use the death penalty, does not have the Catholic Faith. That’s right, anyone.

  • Peregrinus

    doesn’t the Church simply say that God’s plan for man and human society demands the abolition of the death penalty?”


    The Church
    would never go so far as to demand the curtailment of the authority of a lawful
    and competent tribunal to impose the death penalty (as long as the penalty was
    in accordance with justice and due process), because there is no scriptural
    authority for it to do so.  In the case
    of the woman taken in adultery, Jesus never said the woman was innocent or that
    her accusers were not legally entitled to stone her. 


    In the
    absence of specific revelation that the death penalty contravenes the Divine
    Will, the Pope has chosen his words carefully; he has said that “there is a
    growing tendency” to regard the death penalty as unjust in that it is not “in
    line with human dignity”.  Nevertheless
    he notes that this must be viewed “in the context of a system of penal justice”. 


    amounts to saying that it is a matter of private conscience.  Which answers your question, I think, on why the
    Church does not demand its abolition.  

  • donald951

    “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.” (Pope Benedict XVI, while Cardinal Ratzinger, to then Washington DC Archbishop Theodore McCarrick before the 2004 US elections)
    The application of the death penalty in the US already IS rare; so why do liberal activists feel so free to misrepresent what the Church teaches?

  • Bob

    Why isn’t the Church totally consistent?  Let’s take some examples:  A man goes up in a university tower, and starts shooting people, more than 20 killed.  You, as policeman, will kill him before he shoots again, or, You will stand around thinking, “Hmm, can’t do,  the Church is against the death penalty”.  Second example:  a guy steals a tank from a military depot, and runs it around town, running over cars with drivers and passengers, and flattening them. You, as a policeman, will jump up on the tank, and shoot the driver before he runs over more victims, or, you will just stand there and think, “Hmm. Maybe this isn’t right, to execute another human being….”.  Third example:  A sniper sets up his rifle outside a schoolyard, and starts shooting children at play.  You as policeman, will stop him with your gun, or, you will pause and ruminate, “Hmmm.  The Church is against me executing another person. I don’t think I’ll do anything, just stand here and let him shoot more children…” 

    Lest you think this is an idle exercise, these are just 3 (of many hundreds) of actual events in cities.  
    And of course, there is the just war.   Let us not forget what was said of the West, for not coming to the rescue of those in Concentration Camps, earlier than the start of WW II.  Of course, the same set of people, aghast at capital punishment, place blame and condemnation on the Western governments, for NOT being in favor of capital punishment (for the Nazis). 

    There is also another disturbing problem – this ban on the death penalty arises from the western ethos that life is very precious, and every citizen is entitled to a long, happy, and decent life.  But, how does that fit with our Catholic picture that death, although grievous, is a homecoming?  That we are going home to God, and He will wipe away our every tear?  Denial of death, is then, denial of this Catholic theology.  We know that God can take us any time, indeed, even children are taken.  So, why should the capital punishment of a criminal be so difficult to contemplate?  At least the criminal knows he is going home to God, and can prepare beforehand.  Many average humans do not have this luxury. Many of us are so suddenly taken, in accidents or disasters, without time to prepare…
    It really is time to get over this Catholic angst about capital punishment. 

  • Anonymous

    The Church used to be an enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty, even for crimes that would not  be against the law now, such as: homosexual sex; speaking out against people in power; and heresy. The list of Catholic authorities who supported capital punishment is very long and includes SS Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas More, Robert Bellarmine and Alphonsus Ligouri.

    After a very long campaign by brave liberal and progressive voices the Church has realised that the previous teaching by all those famed theologians on this moral issue was false. As is always the case the Church never admits that it was wrong, but just hopes that everyone will pretend not to notice the 180 degree turn in moral teaching.

  • David Lindsay

    As the parliamentarians who abolished the death penalty understood implicitly, the point of voting for a parliamentary candidate is precisely to choose a person whom one believes to be better equipped in this regard than oneself and than the general public. If any MP is not like that, then the solution is to replace him or her with a new MP who is.
    Abolition happened before the great 1970s miscarriages of justice had even occurred, still less been exposed; in any case, they could not happen now. Far fewer countries have the death penalty than is generally supposed, and far more American States never use it, or do not even have it these days. It hardly happens in the US outside Texas. I defy those of you who support it to explain why you agree with a practice now most prevalent in China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Cuba. Are those states of which you approve?
    But the real point is this: the State has no more right to take a morally innocent human life (i.e., that of a wrongly convicted person) on the basis of mere judicial guilt than on the basis of, say, disability, or old age, or terminal illness, or still being in the womb. When can we expect liberal America and the UN, which recently called for a moratorium on the death penalty by a margin far too large to be put down to mere Western cultural imperialism, to act against those evils, too?
    Nor is it coherent for a country to have nuclear weapons (which likewise have absolutely no deterrent value, but that is not quite the present point) but not capital punishment. The solution to that incoherence is not the restoration or retention of capital punishment.

  • Bob Hayes

    ‘Frank Sheed’ – when was he canonised?

  • Bob Hayes

    Frivolous comments to which you will find succinct answers in the Compendium of the Catechism. If you like lynch ‘law’ don’t try to incorporate our faith on your side. 

  • Bob Hayes

    Discussing the matter at hand or just a spot of point-scoring Patrick…….

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Authentic Catholic teaching is misrepresented in this debate, all the time.  Populist and Modernist attitudes to the death penalty reveal a mentality that sees this life as the most important thing of all.

    Check out this article for some clear thinking – I’ve not read it all myself but seems to be reinterating and explaining clearly why the Church’s perennial teaching is in support of the death penalty.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    I hope you’re not implying that I’m a “liberal activist”.
    As opposed as I am to the death penalty, you will certainly not find me picketing for its abolition – at least not so long as the logical contradiction I outlined above still exists.

    If you had read my comment properly,  you would have realised that I’m pretty much in agreement with the prefect’s statement.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    Not “necessary”, but certainly a good excuse.

    The prisoner could still be locked up in solitary confinement which would prevent him making contact with guards or fellow prisoners.

    I’ve always wondered though whether it isn’t more cruel to have people in solitary confinement for decades rather than at least giving them the option of opting for the death penalty – when it’s so obvious that these people can never be released.

  • Anonymous


    The Church DOES NOT support Capital Punishment – it never has!

    St Paul & St Augustine decreed the State has the right ‘to wield the sword’ and to put people to a just and deserved death. This teaching reverberated throughout the Early Church [with the proscriptions on any cleric to be involved in such a process]

    Sounds simple enough – until you ask ‘for what reason? and to what end?’
    Answer: The Execution was NEVER deemed as a punishment – it was a penalty for compromising the security of the state – you were not punished – you were deprived as a direct consequence.

    Justified because the State – like any individual or community – had a right to self-defence.
    Execution was justified as a necessary action of the state to act in its own defence.

    It may seem like sophistry to say this was not capital punishment – but when it comes to moral theology you have to be absolutely precise.

    In the same way the Church does not excommunicate anyone – rather they act in a way which excommunicates themselves ; so too was the justification for execution – the criminal performed an action which compelled the state to act in its own defence.

    This was ALWAYS the justification for being permitted to take life – defence against the threat to one’s very existence.

    It was the excuse used by Innovent III against the Cathars, of Leo X against the Lutherans – that it is objectively unjustifiable and has been Magisterially deemed as non-categorical personal decree and invalid does not remove the justification used. It was not punishment – it was a penalty actuated as a direct consequence against those becoming a threat.

    The Bible is quite clear: Hebrews declares ‘Vengeance is mine’ and it is God who orders punishment throughout the OT – it is not within our remit to punish with death – we merely follow out God’s orders  [Didn't the Mark of Cain make that clear enough? Did not the further declaration of Hebrews that there is but one life-sacrifice befitting unto the Lord? In biblical law, death penalty is comminated, among other crimes, for
    premeditated murder (Es 21, 12; Lv 24, 7), kidnapping and selling a
    person (Es 21, 16; Dt 24, 7), witchcraft (Es 22, 17), violation of
    sabbatical rest (Es 35, 2), human sacrifice (Lv 20, 2), abuse and
    strokes to one's parents (ES 21, 15; Lv 20, 9), adultery and incest (Lv
    20, 10-12; Dt 22, 22), idolatry (Dt 17, 2-5; 19, 17-18) But these were justified solely as regulations in conformity to God's ways. No external man-made 'Noachitic' court could add nor subtract from that law at whim...it was not within their remit to do so.[e.g. as the western world of only a few centuries ago would do for the likes of Sheep-stealing or counterfeiting money] It was God-ordained punishment – humanity had no right to judge upon the life or death of another according to their standards.

    Tertullian (De Idolatria) and Lactantius (Divinae Institutiones) both condemned Capital Punishment – and do we need to bring in the many Gospel passages opposing it? [e.g. Matthew 5, Luke 6, Jn 8]

    Nevertheless Aquinas of blessed fault made an attempt in the Summa Theologiae to justify execution as punishment and oh happy fault – he failed [and later recognised it in his 'Ratio Sanans' where he declared that those deserving death were to be left in God's hands and it was not our place to intervene]

    How did Aquinas fail?
    In the same way Pope Pius XII failed to justify execution as punishment.

    Both misguidedly and inadvertently contravened Catholic dogma.:

    St Thomas declared that the guilty had acted in a bestial way and could therefore be treated in a bestial way: Pius XII similarly declared that those who had acted in such an inhuman way could be treated in an equally inhuman way.

    Romans 8:38 & 39…Nothing can separate us from the Love of God

    The Councils of Arles, Quiercy, Nancy, Valencia & Trent make it categorically clear – what St Thomas & Pope Pius attest is IMPOSSIBLE!!!
    No sin can deprive anyone of their human dignity – and that which that dignity affords
    We cannot treat anyone in an inhuman way as no sin can deprive them of their human dignity.
    [n.b. Pope Pius later confirmed that the Punishment against those 'deserving death' was to be left to God]

    Now surely there must be some definite doctrinal teaching on the issue somewhere?
    THERE IS!!!
    It’s in the Catechism of Trent.
    The state executes criminals [as is their right to wield the sword in its defence] and the executed offers their lives for the sake of the state and for the expiation of their sins – it is a self-sacrificial penitential act in conformity with the will of the state.
    In other words – it is NOT Punishment – it is a self-offering of life and conforming to a civic penalty for the good of all.

    Now of course we may argue that Hebrews states there is but one sacrtifice and no other sacrifice of life is necessary – but that does not alter the plain and simple fact that for many centuries Magisterial teaching on the issue of execution is that it is is NOT JUSTIFIED as Punishment – but becomes justified in self-immolation and subsumation into a civic penalty.

    Nevertheless the Vatican did execute until hangings under Pius IX in 1851…whether these were unjustifiable Capital Punishments or self-defensive death penalties is left to the remit of prudential judgment grounded in magisterial teaching regarding killing only being justifiable against the direct immediate lethal threat of an unjust aggressor on grounds of self-defence.

    Then we arrive at today [via the most ludicrous of sophistries justifying the unjustifiable Capital Punishment [e.g. Avery Cardina Dulles to the USCCB] and many staunch traditionalists and conservatives who adamantly refuse to recognise the Justification of execution in defence of life and fallaciously determine Tradition as granting ‘a right to punish with death’ which has always been non-existent.

    The Catechism makes it quite clear – and let’s get one issue out of the way straight away – John Paul II DID NOT CHANGE Catholic teaching in Evangelium Vitae – he merely reiterated timeless teaching that ‘wielding the sword’ was ALWAYS & ONLY justifiable on grounds of defence:

    CCC 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.
    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 with 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 non-existent.”

    So yes – EditorCT is right in that we always have a right to penalise with death anyone who jeopardises life as an immediate direct lethal unjust aggressor if all other means to prevent this aggression have been exhausted – e.g. if we cannot immobilise we can shoot to kill the suicide bomber or the sniper – we can actuate a just war – we can stick a kitchen knife in the mad axeman before he swings a lethal blow about our heads…

    …BUT – we CANNOT punish with death – death is NOT a valid form of punishment ; nor was it ever deemed as such in magisterial teachings; death when expedited was always justified by defence.

    So no matter what EditorCT attempts to throw at you via extra-contextual quotations or quasi-sophistry or extra-magisterial opinion extraneous from the underlying justification of appeals to defence of individual, community or state – WE DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO KILL AS PUNISHMENT – and never did!!!

    One Note: Pope Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger DID in his letter to the USCCB refer to Capital Punishment [as opposed to a self-defensive death penalty] but this must be considered as either a slip of the tongue, or a mistranslation or merely inadvertent extra-magisterial remiss on his part – for Catholic teaching is categorical on the issue.

    We DO indeed maintain a right to exercising a self-defensive death penalty in which prudential judgment is required in its actuation; But we do not have [as is exercised in the US and shamefully equivocated away by so many US Catholics [and all too many misguided fools in this country who think they're being 'ultra-catholic' ]] recourse to Capital Punishment. 

  • Anonymous

    He’s trying to prove that Catholic moral teaching can perform a volte -face so he can justify gay sex to himself and delude himself that the Church will one day declare same-sex horiszontee is ay-ok – see previous posts of his ad nauseam.

  • Anonymous

    Wrong: State has the right to defend itself – and wield the sword in the process…
    The State never had any justification to punish with death – only penalise with death those who threatened it – there is a cosmos of difference between the two arguments.

  • Anonymous

    Our Faith did not begin with the JPII generation

    Pope Innocent I in

     “It must be
    remembered that power was granted by God, and to avenge crime the sword was
    permitted; he who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister. What motive
    have we for condemning a practice that all hold to be permitted by God?  (Innocent 1, Epist. 6, C. 3. 8, ad Exsuperium,
    Episcopum Tolosanum, 20 February 405, PL 20,495)


    Pope Innocent III in

    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


    Pope Paul III,

     Pope Paul III
    excommunicated Henry VIII in 1538, and opened the Council of

    Trent in 1545.  “…The punishments to be meted out were
    specified: imprisonment, execution, and confiscation of goods in the case of
    those condemned to death.” Papal Bull,
    Licet ab Initio, 1542


    Pope Julius III

    As a young man Julius was imprisoned on “death row” during
    the sack of Rome by mercenaries of Emperor Charles VII. Later as a
    cardinal he tried to persuade convicts to repent but still enforced the death
    penalty many times.


    Pope Pius IV

    Reconvened the Council of Trent and shepherded it to
    conclusion. Pope Pius IV made full use of the death penalty.


    Pope Saint Pius V
    1566- 1572          

    Pius V was responsible for the implementation of the reforms
    of the Council of Trent including the Roman Catechism. A papal bull of July
    13, 1566
    threatened the death penalty for all who dared to give shelter to murderers or
    outlaws. Pope Pius V oversaw many executions.

    The Roman Catechism of Trent
    on the Execution of Criminals:

     “The just use of this
    power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience
    to this Commandment which prohibits murder.”

    … “The murderer is the worst enemy of his species, and
    consequently of nature. To the utmost of his power he destroys the universal
    work of God by the destruction of man, since God declares that He created all
    things for man’s sake. Nay, as it is forbidden in Genesis to take human life,
    because God created man to his own image and likeness, he who makes away with
    God’s image offers great injury to God, and almost seems to lay violent hands
    on God Himself !”

    It was Pope Pius V who standardized the Mass by promulgating
    the 1570 edition of the Roman Missal. This form of the Mass remained
    essentially unchanged for 400 years until1970. We know what happened then, sad
    to say, and now the damage is slowly being corrected. It was also Pope Pius V
    who arranged an alliance of Catholic states, who, although outnumbered defeated
    the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto. A rosary procession had been offered on that day in St.
    Peter’s Square for the success of the mission to hold back Muslim forces from
    overrunning Europe. 30,000 Muslim were killed while the Catholic allied losses were 7,500.
    This victory Pius V attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary
    and he instituted the feast, Our Lady of Victory now Our Lady of the Rosary,
    Oct 7.

    Pope Sixtus V 1585-1590 , The Iron Pope

    He launched a much needed anti-crime
    campaign resulting in over 7,000 criminals being executed.


    Pope Clement VIII

    It was during papacy of Clement VIII that Robert Cardinal
    Bellarmine wrote an influential book, The
    Art of Dying Well. Bellarmine’s approach was that the condemned man could
    actually be rehabilitated by his suffering and repentance, which would
    transform his execution into an expiation and his death could become a “good”


    Blessed Pope Pius IX, the longest reining pope. 32
    years, 1846 -1878.

    Pope Pius IX convened the First
    Vatican Council in 1869, decreed papal infallibility, and defined the dogma of
    the Immaculate Conception. He ordered several executions in the Papal


    Pope Leo XIII, 1901

    “The death sentence is a necessary and efficacious
    means for the Church to attain its ends when rebels against it disturb the
    ecclesiastical unity, especially obstinate heretics who cannot be restrained by
    any other penalty from continuing to disturb ecclesiastical order.”  – Preface to vol. 2 of “Book of Canon

    Pope Saint Pius X in
    his Catechism, 1908

    “ It is lawful to kill when fighting in a just war; when
    carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in
    punishment of a crime.” (Answer to question 3 – Are there cases in which it is
    lawful to kill?)

    Pope Pius XII  in 1952

    when there is question of the execution of a condemned man, the State does not
    dispose of the individual’s right to life … by his crime, he has already
    dispossessed himself of his right to life.”

  • Bob Hayes

    ‘… a mentality that sees this life as the most important thing of all.’ But if we set aside that view, do we not then provide a powerful argument for those who advocate euthanasia? 

  • Bob Hayes

    ‘…giving them the option of opting for the death penalty’. Giving them the option of suicide – another mortal sin.

  • Ryan

    I always figured it was because Romans 13 so clearly and unequivocally recognizes that in some circumstances the State fulfills its proper function by executing wrongdoers.  To change this teaching would not only contradict the traditional understanding but would be contrary to a Scriptural passage that is very plain on its face.  Mr. Oddie, could it possibly be that the majority actually have a better sense of what truly constitutes justice in this case?

  • Ryan

    I also find it strange that many of the people who most loudly clamor for legalizing euthanasia and for abortion rights are also the ones decrying capital punishment.  Seems to me that these people don’t believe in what they cannot see – this life is all there is for them so of course to take the only existence there is from someone would constitute the most awful punishment.  They can’t believe a few microscopic cells constitute life so the rights of the woman they can see trumps those of the fetus.  There’s nothing spiritual to be gained from suffering so why not give a person the right to choose to end their own life if it becomes unbearable?  At least for the criminal facing execution there is the chance for redemption and eternal life.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    No, Bob, because the Church distinguishes between innocent human life and the guilty (of wilful murder). Nobody should be put to death just because they’re old or ill.  There’s quite a difference.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    I recommend that you read Iota Unum by Romario Amerio, a peritus at Vatican II whose masterpiece on the changes that followed Vatican II includes commentary on the changed attitudes to the Death Penalty.

    Also, it seems clear that you didn’t read the link I gave above. Here’s an extract, from under the heading The Traditional Teaching of the Church… 

    And so it is with Catholic teaching on the morality of capital punishment. According to the constant teaching of the Church, God Himself has ordained that legitimate civil authority shall have the right and duty to punish deliberate murder (and other grave crimes) with the penalty of death. Capital punishment honors the Fifth commandment, because it vindicates the sanctity of human life. Hence, in its teaching on the Fifth Commandment the Catechism of the Council of Trent declares:

    Again, this prohibition does not apply to the civil magistrate, to whom is entrusted the power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which he punishes the guilty and protects the innocent. The use of the civil sword, when wielded by the hand of justice, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the commandment is the preservation and sanctity of human life, and to the attainment of this end, the punishments inflicted by the civil magistrate, who is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend, giving security to life by repressing outrage and violence.

    As the Tridentine Catechism teaches, the death penalty protects the sanctity of life through legitimate legal vengeance to repress outrage and violence in society. This involves just retribution and deterrence as legitimate aims of penal law.
    The Catechism’s reference to the civil sword evokes St. Paul’s teaching on the divine right of civil authority to avenge wrongdoing by the sword: “But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Rom. 13:4 Reflecting on this passage, St. Thomas teaches that capital punishment imitates divine justice; for after all, eternal damnation is the ultimate form of capital punishment: “According to the order of His wisdom God sometimes slays sinners forthwith in order to deliver the good, whereas he sometimes allows them time to repent, according as what is expedient to His elect. This also does human justice imitate according to its powers . . .” (ST II-II, Q. 64, Art.

    2) Thus the right of civil authority to punish evildoers by the sword in appropriate cases is a matter of revealed truth, not a changeable prudential judgment. This is not to deny that civil authority can exercise prudential judgment in abstaining from the exercise of its right to impose capital punishment, or even abolish it entirely in keeping with historical circumstances. For example, earlier this year the Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, signed an executive ban on the death penalty in his state given the appalling evidence of numerous executions of innocent persons in Illinois based on “forced confessions, unreliable witnesses, and incompetent legal representation.” As a lawyer, I am well familiar with the grave potential in any legal system for catastrophic miscarriages of justice which, in the case of capital punishment, cannot be rectified. The Church has never taught that civil authority must impose capital punishment for murder, but only that it has a divine sanction when it does so.
    It must not be forgotten that the death penalty, like any criminal penalty, serves as a form of expiation. That is why prisons were once called penitentiaries…”

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps paulpriest can clarify his position. He argues that the state is allowed to kill in order to defend itself, but not as a punishment. If it is not a punishment then the question of the guilt or innocence of the person to be put to death would not be relevant – since he is not being put to death to pay for a crime, but to further the defence of the state. According to paulpriest’s understanding of Catholic moral teaching any innocent life is forfeit to the state because the state has a fundamental right to take life in order to protect itself. On the other hand if paulpriest is going to say that only guilty people can be put to death, then that proves it is a punishment, which by definition is a penalty applied for wrongdoing.

    When St Thomas More was Chancellor of England, he ordered that six reformers should be burned at the stake for owning banned books and persisting in heresy. Was that a moral act? If a tyrant in the Middle East burned six Christians to death because he believed that their faith was a threat to the defence of his state, would that be a moral act according to traditional Catholic teaching?

    The Church used to be a friend of cruel tyrants, and it gave its blessing to their evil actions so they could use torture and execution in order to preserve their oppressive rule, as long as they paid tribute to the Church and its prelates.

  • Bob Hayes

    Nonetheless capital punishment and euthanasia are both clinically administrative methods of extinguishing life carried out by State authority. Nation states have a poor record when it comes to discerning lives that are ‘not worthy’. 

  • Bob Hayes

    From your third paragraph: ‘God Himself has ordained that legitimate civil authority shall have the right and duty to punish deliberate murder (and other grave crimes)’. The last four words seem to be a blank cheque for governments.

  • Anonymous

    Correct me if I am wrong, but all of those arguments seem to apply only to murder or crimes of serious violence. For many centuries the vast majority of executions were for other crimes, including theft of small amounts of money, and speaking against the tyrants in power. The Church used to teach that there was a divine authority for a state (no matter how tyrannical) to put people to death for even minor crimes.

  • Anonymous

    Patrick – if you can’t be bothered to read what I wrote – please don’t bother commenting on it.

    Catholic teaching is clear – taking life is an intrinsic moral disorder – it is only ever permissible in moral dilemma to prevent an objective evil occurring.

    Taking the life of an unjust aggressor to prevent their direct, immediate, lethal threat to one’s life is permissible – permissible to the individual, community or state.

    Where you presume this ‘defence of the state’ is in regard to anything other than a direct, lethal, unjust aggression [ as repeatedly stated] – is frankly beyond me!

    The state has a right to protect the lives of those within it against a lethal unjust aggressor – even to the extent of lethal defensive measures when all other recourses have been exhausted.

    IF a state exercises an unnecessary [and therefore immoral] execution – this is determined as judicial murder – and is a laetae sententiae excommunicable offence.

    The collective has just as much right to appeal to self defence against evil as the individual – that is all!

    Do you deliberately go out of your way to misinterpret?

  • Anonymous

    Your position is absurd and you are hopelessly confused between the doctrine of self-defence and that of punishment. Those two concepts are and always have been completely separate in Catholic teaching.

     It is one thing to say that the state has the right to administer a just punishment for a serious crime, which may or may not include the death penalty; but quite another to argue that the end justifies the means, so that in order to attain the end of security for the rulers of a state they may kill prisoners not as a punishment that they deserve for their wickedness, but as a cold-blooded act of self-preservation. It has never been the Catholic church’s position that, in peacetime, prisoners could be killed unless they deserved the penalty as a rightful punishment. 

    For anyone to confuse the concept of a just war when indirect deaths of innocent people may be unavoidable, with that of the treatment of prisoners who have been convicted of crimes against the state in peacetime, is exceptionally misguided. 

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP


    I guess there’s no morally justified use of the death penalty then.

  • Anonymous

    …and yet again – you choose not to read what’s there; but instead interpret it to your own remit.

    This has NOTHING to do with self-preservation utility [I repeat - that would be deemed as judicial murder and has been banned for 4,000 years under the Noachitic laws - hence the utterance of Caiaphas was seen as an abomination [for even the gentiles could not act in such a way - the law of justice over life being written on the human heart]

    Punishment is justly meted by those ordained/appointed to such roles – and it must always be proportionate to the gravity of the crime and reflective of divine justice.

    I have no idea how EditorCT can think she can get away with appeals to deterrence in regard to punishment – that is utterly contrary to Catholic teaching – that deterrence might be an exigent secondary consequence is complementary to justice; but to punish to deter rather than punish according to a crime? Is a utilitarian obscenity.

    Now how can I make this any clearer?
    Death is NOT a valid form of punishment.
    The only permitted recourse to taking life is against a direct, immediate, lethal unjust aggressor when all other means of prevention have been exhausted – one may only ever kill in self-defence – NOTE defence – NOT pre-emptive aggression against an adversary; nor a post-threat retribution.

    The State does not have a right to punish with death; but to defend ‘to the death’.

    It has a right to penalise with death those who are a direct, immediate lethal threat to those within it.[Do you understand these criteria ? because you always seem to allude to prisoners who are not a direct lethal threat and therefore may never be killed?]
    Recourse to death must always be against those whom if allowed to live would lead to the death of others at their hand.

    Patrick – I am utterly bemused at your appeal to ‘you can only kill those who rightly deserve to be punished with death’ lest the killing becomes immoral – you don’t get it do you?

    I repeat: We are expressly forbidden to punish with death.
    Any unnecessary death is gravely immoral – to take the life of anyone for any other reason than self-defence is also the gravest of matter – moral desert does not come into the argument; moral necessity does – if we do not act an objective evil will occur and people will be murdered.

    Appealing to the actions of past popes or saints is an irrelevance – they lived in a different world with different Church-State relations – how the Holy See or the Vatican States acted in the past is a matter between them and God.

    We have the magisterial teaching and it is emphatic regarding the ONLY justification for ever taking a life – when they immediately and directly through an act of will threaten the lives of others

    The right to wield the sword is in defence.

    Hence the capital punishment of safely incarcerated prisoners who are no direct lethal risk – actuated by the US and other nations are grave crimes and mortally sinful.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    I suggest you read the (post-Vatican II) Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    “Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the dealth penalty.” (Paragraph 2266, CCC)

    First published in 1994, is this Catechism recent enough for you?

    By the way, it is mischevious in the extreme to say that anyone is suggesting “deterrence” (as one rationale for capital punishment) as if deterrence is separate from the crime.  Deterrence is meaningful only in the context of the rest of us seeing what happens to someone found guilty of wilful murder. You make it sound as if governments are encouraged to pull people off the street and execute thm as a “deterrence” – that would be completely ridiculous and I’m going to credit you with at least sufficient intelligence to know that the Church is suggesting that.  It’s just possible, however, that, faced with a noose instead of a reasonably comfortable, room complete with TV and (certainly in some cases) en suite facilities, snooker table, regular family visits, plenty of company, and parole to look forward to, the would-be murderers around us just might think twice.  Worth a thought.  

    By the way, I’m not saying that I would necessarily want a restoration of the death penalty. I waver a bit on this (not least because, to date, I’ve not caved in to the temptation to commit that particular sin and if I did, I’m not sure I’d want to face my Maker too quickly! Although that punishment would be, if I chose to embrace it, expiatory.)  But there’s no denying the Church’s traditional teaching has, as the CCC clearly states, acknowledged the right of legitimate public authority to take the life of a person found guilty of wilful murder.  

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Correction: “… the Church is suggesting that” should, of course, read “…the Church is NOT suggesting that.”

    Apologies for any confusion caused.

  • Ioannes Patricius

    If you are serious about wanting to know and are opened minded:


    From Amerio, Iota Unum (well worth reading):


  • Anonymous

    Its probably because it would not go down well with (a proportion of) the millions of American Catholics. They live in a country where around 60% of people agree with the practice.

  • Bob Hayes

    Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – presented by Pope Benedict XVI, 28 June 2005:

    No. 468 (CCC2266) ‘A punishment imposed by a legitimate public authority has the aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offence, of defending public order and people’s safety, and contributing to the correction of the guilty party.’
    No. 469 (CCC2267) ‘Given the possibilities which the State now has for effectively preventing crime by rendering one who has committed an offence incapable of doing harm, the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent” (Evangelium Vitae). When non-lethal means are sufficient, authority should limit itself to such means because the better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good, are more in conformity with the dignity of the human person, and do not remove definitively from the guilty party the possibility of reforming himself.’

    In our rapidly secularising societies I cannot understand why anyone would wish to ‘legitimise’ States having yet more control over life and death. 

  • Warren

    We can work toward the day when the death penalty is no longer necessary while respecting the right of the State to protect its citizens using the appropriate means available. In technologically advanced  societies where prisons exist which effectively restrain violent criminals and neutralize a threat – as longs as the sentences are severe enough to last the entire length of such a criminal’s life without exceptions that allow unreformed criminals back on the street – there is no need for the death penalty. Other less developed states may have to resort to the death penalty because no practical means exists whereby the threat can be neutralized.

    In times of war, the state certainly has a duty to protect its citizens from the threat posed by an unjust aggressor. It would be morally reprehensible if a state possessed the means to deter an enemy and did not uphold its duty to use just means necessary to neutralize such a threat to the peace and well being of its citizens.

    Meanwhile, we work and pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God, the one true kingdom under the one true King and Saviour – Jesus Christ.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    A “compendium” is merely a concise version.  What is there in the 2005 compendium that contradicts the 1994 Catechism?  Certainly, nothing that you’ve quoted.

    It’s not within my power to “legitimise” states having “yet more control over life and death” – that is, the Church’s teaching, a recognised right of a legitimate State.  Don’t blame me.

    And I specifically said that I am not arguing in favour of the death penalty, although I think there are sound grounds to support it, I made a point of saying that I’m a waverer on the subject of restoration; on this blog I am merely acknowledging the Church’s traditional teaching which DOES support it. There’s never any point in denying a fact.

  • Anonymous

    reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital
    punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the
    magisterium. Consistency with scripture and long-standing Catholic tradition is
    important for the grounding of many current teachings of the Catholic Church;
    for example, those regarding abortion, contraception, and the permanence of
    marriage. If the tradition on capital punishment had been reversed, serious
    questions would be raised regarding other doctrines.”  Avery
    Cardinal Dulles, “Catholic Teaching on the Death Penalty”, in Owens, Carlson
    & Elshtain, op. cit., p. 26. 2004
     “As the Church’s teaching on contraception
    cannot “develop” in a way that would declare its intrinsic evil to be
    good, so the right of a state to execute criminals cannot “develop”
    so that its intrinsic good becomes evil.” – Father
    George Rutler, pastor of the Church of our Savior in New York. He has a weekly
    program on EWTN and is the author of several books.

  • Anonymous

    “…why doesn’t the Church oppose [the death penalty] as unequivocally as abortion and euthanasia?”

    ## Because it is not intrinsically wrong. To execute criminals can perfectly well be a virtuous act. If it is wrong, the magisterium of past centuries showed itself to be quite exceptionally clueless, useless, misleading and incompetent in not condemning it. And that is putting it mildly. If the death penalty is intrinsically wrong now, the past Magisterium was wrong to defend it. If the Magisterium then was wrong, there is absolutely no reason whatever to think the Magisterium is not wrong now; & no insisting it is right now can change that.  By trashing the Magisterium of the past, the Magisterium of today trashes itself. It can’t have continuity with past Catholic teaching, unless it preserves both the continuity, and the teaching. And if it condemns the DP as intrinsically wrong, it cuts its own throat & commits suicide.

  • Anonymous

    “Both misguidedly and inadvertently contravened Catholic dogma…”

    ## IOW, Pius XII was an incompetent who was not capable of teaching the Catholic Faith on the lawfulness of the DP. In which case, why should one bother with anything else he taught ? And if one Pope can be in error, all can. Logically, the only function of bishops would then be, to mislead the faithful by teaching false doctrine.

    This adds up to saying that Catholic teaching is nothing more than a stab in the dark. It makes a huge joke out of infallibility, Papal & and Conciliar alike. If Popes are too clueless to avoid “contraven[ing] Catholic dogma”, one might as well emulate Caligula, and elect a horse. His Equine Holiness Pope Incitatus I could hardly do a worse job of teaching the Church than a human bishop of Rome appears to have done.

    At least a horsey Pope would not need a Popemobile; he could trot along under a baldacchino instead.

    “Pope Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger DID in his letter to the USCCB
    refer to Capital Punishment [as opposed to a self-defensive death
    penalty] but this must be considered as either a slip of the tongue, or a
    mistranslation or merely inadvertent extra-magisterial remiss on his
    part – for Catholic teaching is categorical on the issue.”

    ## The SCDF can’t get its act together either ? How useless of it. Since the Church is apparently staffed by ignoramuses and incompetents, it is hard to see how these incompetents who mislead the faithful are fit to look after a paper-bag.

  • Anonymous

    “When St Thomas More was Chancellor of England, he ordered that six
    reformers should be burned at the stake for owning banned books and
    persisting in heresy. Was that a moral act?…”

    ## Yes, it was. Heresy is a great evil, and heretics are worse than murderers, worse than traitors, worse than forgers. It is therefore completely just to put to death those who persist in heresy.  Leo X,in the Bull “Exsurge Deus” of 1520, condemned as an error the proposition of Luther that “To burn heretics is against the will of the Holy Spirit”.

    “…If a tyrant in the Middle East burned six Christians to death because he believed that their faith was a threat to the defence of his state, would that be a moral act according to traditional Catholic teaching?”

    ## It certainly could be. Such a tyrant would not necessarily be morally culpable, even though it would – all things being equal – be an error of judgement for him to believe their faith was a threat to the defence of his state; he might in good faith believe that he had a moral duty to kill Christians, even though the result for them would be an unjust one. If he were in any doubt as to the moral rightness of burning them, he would (objectively speaking) be under a moral obligation to do his utmost to ensure that his intended course of action was in accord with the Will of God so far as he knew it. It would be very wrong to kill Christians (or anyone else) for a trivial reason, or without being morally convinced that it was the right course of action.

  • Steve Hyland

    Iota Unum is excellent on this subject.

  • Steve Hyland

    A point that seems ot be forgotten is that, for the condemned criminal, the death penalty can be a great mercy. For it gives him a chance to repent from his sins in preparation for to meet his Maker, and not only that, he can offer his own life in reparation for the sins he has committed and so gain faster entrance into Heaven.

    One has to wonder what St Catherine of Siena would have made of the current death penalty debate. She saw the sinner Nocolo Toldo convert on the block and so save his soul. So too St. Therese of Lisieux who saw the conversion of the notorious Pranzini on his way to his death,

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    You are totally correct and I’ve kept forgetting to say that my wavering is entirely due to this truth.  The only argument against the death penalty, it seems to me, would be to allow more time for repentance in the case of obstinacy.

    So, well said, Steve.  Very well said.

  • Bob Hayes

    Given the range of Scripture and Church pronouncements – cited here – in support of the death sentence, and the apparent consensus that it is applicable to the ‘gravest’ crimes, I presume that women who abort their unborn children and those who carry-out the procedures should – ideally – be put to the sword. Is my reading correct?

  • Anonymous

    sorry, so if you believe that euthanasia would be acceptable as a Catholic – you are not able to receive communion!!