The Traditional Case for Capital Punishment

A group of Catholic publishers recently issued a joint statement urging an end to capital punishment. I have great respect for all of them – I have written for all of them at one point or another. I disagree with them on this issue, however. And it may be good to give some background about why I and many others disagree.

Most importantly, the Catholic Church’s Magisterium does not and never has advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. The U.S. bishops have conceded that Catholic teaching has accepted the principle that the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of an extremely serious crime. Even the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin – hardly a conservative – never stated that every criminal has a right to continue living, nor did he deny that the state has the right in some cases to execute the guilty. St. John Paul II, although opposed to most applications of the death penalty, thought the same.

Let’s hear what St. Augustine had to say on this topic: “ . . . there are some exceptions made by the divine authority to its own law, that men may not be put to death. These exceptions are of two kinds, being justified either by a general law, or by a special commission granted for a time to some individual. And in this latter case, he to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself responsible for the death he deals. And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, You shall not kill.” (City of God, Bk I, 21)

Augustine also said that capital punishment protects those who are undergoing it from further sinning, which might continue if their life went on.

If this is not enough, consider the thoughts of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, on this topic. Citing Exodus 22, which specifies that certain categories of wrongdoers shall not be permitted to live, Aquinas unequivocally states that civil rulers can execute justly to protect the peace of the state. St. Thomas finds frivolous the argument that murderers should be allowed to live in hopes of their repentance, questioning how many innocent people should have to suffer death while waiting for the guilty to repent. While capital punishment is not justifiable as an act of vengeance, according to Aquinas it is justifiable to help secure the safety of the community by removing a dangerous wrongdoer and deterring others from his example; in addition, it is an act of justice, allowing expiation for the wrongdoer’s sin.


St. Paul in his hearing before Festus says, “If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.” (Acts 25:11) Very clearly this constitutes an acknowledgment on the part of the apostle to the gentiles that the state continues to have the power of life and death in the administration of justice. And of course when we first encounter Paul (Saul at that point), he is cooperating in the stoning to death of St. Stephen for the crime of blasphemy.

Pope Pius XII said, “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.”

The Catechism of the Council of Trent, composed under the supervision of St. Charles Borromeo, stated: “Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thou 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.”

None of the figures mentioned above were bloodthirsty individuals. All probably would have agreed with several modern popes that great care be used in modern conditions in applying the death penalty. But it’s doubtful they would have supported abolishing it.

Indeed, for any son or daughter of God, it is a great grace to know the time of one’s death, as it gives us the opportunity to get right with the Lord who will judge us at our death. Perhaps many people have been saved in this way by the death penalty. Who knows what would have happened if they had been allowed to linger in this life, one day possibly killing other people?

And there are other, utterly unexpected effects. The great Catholic convert and evangelist Frank Sheed wrote a book called The Map of Life. In one edition of the book, he tells of a man sentenced to death for murder. After reading Sheed’s book, the man wrote Sheed that, if what he had put down in that book about heaven and forgiveness was true, though he was offered clemency by the State, he decided to allow the execution, because he would be going to heaven now as a Catholic convert.

Fr. C. John McCloskey III

Fr. C. John McCloskey III

Fr. C. John McCloskey is a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.

  • Jim Walsh

    Sorry I can’t agree with you about capital punishment. But I do agree that not everyone can or should write down their opinions.

    • Steve D.

      Especially when those opinions are placed in a teaching document of the Church.

  • Andrew Greenwell

    St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, and he whom Popes have said can always be safely followed allowed for capital punishment. In his book on Moral Theologyt: “Whether, and in what manner, is it lawful to kill a wrongdoer376. Whether it is lawful for proper authority to kill a criminal?
    376.—Response: Other than the case of necessary defense, of which more below, no one except public authority may lawfully do so, and then only if the order of the law has been observed, as is made clear in Exodus 22 and Romans 13.
    . . . . The public authority is given the power to kill wrongdoers, and that not unjustly, since it is necessary for the defense of the commonwealth. (Killing may not be done outside of the criminal’s territory, neither is it presumed that another prince has this right.) They also sin who kill not out of the zeal of justice, but out of hate, or private vengeance. Vide Laym l.c. Similarly, a prince or magistrate sins (normally speaking) see below l. 4. C. 3. D. 1, who orders a wrongdoer to be put to death without being properly cited, or heard, or adjudged (by public trial), even it if he has personal knowledge of that person’s guilt, because as a matter of natural law, a public act ought to be derived from public knowledge and authority. There is an exception to this rule if: (1) the crime is notorious, or (2) if there is a danger of sedition, or the King’s disgrace, if the cause proceeds juridically.”

  • FreddyChazal

    Now if it were in the realms of the imaginable that the accompanying Catholic Thing picture depicted a white murderer kneeling before a black priest, I might consider the point. But as it is, the picture itself is the best argument for the folly of believing there is an objective justification for capital punishment, or that those doling the punishment are themselves wholly without responsibility for the crimes they punish another for.

    As long as a man still takes breath he may yet repent and be saved. That’s why I urge all you capital punishment advocates to keep breathing and pray for the grace to repent.

    • Anthony Zarrella

      Huh? I *think* what you’re trying to say is the following (refutation to follow):
      [Please note: I use the terms “whites” and “blacks” because if I am going to have to write the terms again and again, I would rather not write “white men and women” and “black men and women” every time. I am aware that the usage is sometimes associated with racism, and I emphatically disclaim and condemn any such connotation.]

      1) The fact that blacks are (arguably) executed at a higher rate than whites for the same underlying crimes is argument against the continued imposition of the death penalty.

      2) The entire phenomenon of black criminality (by which I mean only the phenomenon of some blacks committing crimes, not some racist claim that blacks are inherently criminally disposed) is at least partly the fault of whites, and therefore whites should not execute blacks.

      In response:

      1) To the best of my knowledge, none of the studies cited for this proposition has adequately analyzed the cases studied so as to take into account aggravating and mitigating factors that might lead to or weigh against a capital sentence. Even if they did, the notion that capital punishment is *misapplied* does not, as you claim, show that it is “folly” to believe in an “objective justification for capital punishment.” That some people are wrongly sentenced to die does not prove that no person can rightly be sentenced to die.

      2) Every person has the free choice to commit crimes or not. To assert that blacks are in some way compelled to commit crimes by economics, prejudice, or any other external cause, whether originating from whites or not, is in fact to *denigrate* the agency and therefore the essential human dignity of blacks. “He couldn’t help himself” is an argument we use to excuse dogs and children, not adults.

      Lastly, your implication that I need to “repent” for supporting capital punishment is condescending and uncalled-for. We disagree, but I don’t think you’re sinning by supporting death penalty abolition – you just have a different view of how best to serve God’s will.

      As long as a man still takes breath, he may yet repent and be saved… but he also may yet shiv a fellow prisoner or a guard. On the flipside, yes, once dead, repentance is out of reach, but the prospect of immanent death might well lead to a sincere repentance and Confession before execution.

      • FreddyChazal

        Actually, you totally miss, and so fail to address, the point I make.

        • Anthony Zarrella

          Well then, enlighten me – what was the point?

      • BPS

        God bless you for speaking the truth, brother!

    • catechist1

      what difference the color of the persons in a simple picture, the main point is someone looking for redemption, cant it be left at that, OH NO drag out the race card

      • FreddyChazal

        No. The main point is shortening someone’s life and thus denying them further opportunity to seek salvation.

        • Burger Fan

          You mean like when THEY GET MURDERED ?

        • catechist1

          if that was your intent than good but why bring up the white comment

    • Steve D.

      The majority of defendants executed since 1976 have been white. How racist!

      • FreddyChazal

        The majority of second marriages are till death do they part. How dysfunctional!

    • RainingAgain

      This is the tired progressivist mantra that all whites are racists and that everything is someone else’s fault. This worldview leads to the cosseting of the most vicious murderers and rapists simultaneous with the industrial killing of the innocent. So, while the wicked are spared, wholesale slaughter of the unborn, the old, the disabled and the terminally ill is the name of the “compassionate” progressive game.

      • FreddyChazal

        The wicked are spared what exactly? Every opportunity for redemption that can be afforded them?
        As for everything being someone else’s fault, that’s not my mantra, that’s your’s. My mantra is that everyone bears responsibility for the wickedness of this world.

        • catechist1

          we must bear the responsibility for our own actions, what someone else does is their responsibility, granted we have a moral obligation to council others who may be on the wrong path and to give example by how we live our life but we cannot bear the responsibility of the world.

  • Toutbaigne

    Thank you for the clarity on this. There is a tremendous difference between arguing that captial punishment is not prudent to apply under certain circumstances, and that it is intrinsically morally evil. Confusing the two leads to nothing less than saying that the Church has changed its teaching on a matter of morals.

  • Ted

    Although the Great Saint John Paul II did not deny the state the right of the death penalty, he did say he saw no place for it in modern society.

    • BPS

      Breaking with 2000 years of catholic teaching on this matter.

    • Jim Loiacono

      As you write, St. John Paul II had a profound antipathy toward the death penalty, and one has to admit the profound truth of his reasoning. Nonetheless, an encyclical is the pronouncement to the Church and the world of the most definitive teaching of the Church pronounced by a pope, except for a dogma. He came close to a dogmatic statement with respect to abortion, in Evangelium Vita, and, to the disappointment of many, he came ever so close to precluding any case for any use of capital punishment in the same document – “close but no cigar.” In spite of his explicit and repeated sense repugnance for war as any sort of a sane solution, he also wrote in the same encyclical that the duly elected leader of a country has no right to be a pacifist since he might need to defend his/her nations by military force from bellicose aggression, as a parent has the obligation to protect her/his children by force if necessary. These issue are wretchedly complex, but the great Catholic social teacher, Fr. Brian Herr, said in his lectures at Georgetown University in the summer of 1978, that the Church, except at the very beginning, never took a position as might be found in Quakers and Mennonites. He then capped it by saying that we might want or wish it might be so, but it’s not. Our great pope showed he was boxed in by this fact – Scripture, centuries of teaching and historical circumstances. His integrity and honesty would not allow personal and academic considerations to trump the complexities of the truth.

  • Donna Kerrigan

    The Sheed example of man who opted to reject clemency so he could go to God a forgiven Catholic does not strike me as true trust in God’s providence. If clemency was being offered, maybe he was called to stay longer

  • ritap

    Thank you, Father. I, for one, was VERY disappointed with the stance taken by these–some esteemed–publications. They gave credence to those who equate the death penalty with abortion–ALWAYS an intrinsic evil. To decide they know better than that which Christ’s Church has taught for over 2,000 years was truly appalling. Further, I recommend reading Dr. Ed Peter’s opinion on the subject. Particularly the part in which he points out “the law of unintended consequences.”

  • ssuzanne

    Thank you, Father, for a very well written article. I agree with you, and I was dismayed to see that statement, simply because statements like that breed the misunderstanding of the teachings of the Church on the death penalty. Sigh.

    Also, the extremely uncharitable behavior of Mark Shea at the Register, while typical, also doesn’t help the discussion, and reading it again has made me drop the Register altogether. Employing a person who treats his readers like that shows they could care less about their readers.

    • Steve D.

      For neoCatholics, the long traditional teachings of the Church are irrelevant. What matters is the Church of VatII.

  • ToniStimmel

    It would be natural for an organization that has a long history of enabling and shielding pedophiles to be against capital punishment even though Jesus recommended it for them.

    The Church might not be against capital punishment, on paper, but there are a lot of Catholics led by Bishops, priests, and nuns politically protesting against it that lead a lot of the onlookers to believe that the Church IS, in fact, against it.

    • RainingAgain

      Really mature argument.

  • Burger Fan

    Thank you! Great article!!!

  • mahrt

    I am grateful for this reasoned qualification of the recent statement by the four Catholic journals. The argument against the death penalty has included the following: several men on death row have been exonerated by DNA evidence, pointing to the possibility of the execution of an innocent man. But now that DNA evidence is available, those very men would not have been convicted in the first place. There is another situation: a killer sentenced to life imprisonment without parole has little left to lose. It is true that some repent and truly reform their lives, but apparently, some also turn worse, and with little left to lose, commit murder in the jail. Thus, even in this limited circumstance, the death penalty would have prevented the death of an innocent man,

  • Dave Fladlien

    I think we are in danger of becoming too “digital”, too black-and-white in the consideration of the death penalty. Anyone *totally* rejecting the argument that a prisoner might repent after time in prison in lieu of execution need only consider the case of Gestapo Chief Herbert Kapler, who (as I understand this famous true story) repented of his war crimes in 1959 or so and became a Catholic, while serving a life sentence. If he had been executed in 1946, that repentance and conversion would never have happened. That story changed my opinion dramatically on this subject.

    I too would grant that the state in theory has the right to execute; but in today’s age, where secure incarceration is not difficult to accomplish, the danger of the person continuing to kill others, for instance, is pretty limited. So only in the case of someone whose friends or accomplices are still at large and commiting criminal acts on behalf of the one incarcerated would execution of the one in custody be warranted to protect the innocent.

    • BPS

      How do you his conversion “never would have happened” in 1946? How do you know that, facing death, Kapler’s mind would not have been concentrated on his morality, and thus directed toward God?
      The only way the Europeans have been able to have “secure” incarceration is by drugging or solitary confinement. Do you really believe this is more humane than a dignified execution? I’d pick execution (given a chance to see a priest), than have my mind altered to madness by these other practices.

  • Bro_Ed

    I offer two thoughts on the subject: (1) I was a supporter of the death penalty in extreme cases until I started reading about the lifers who have been exonerated by DNA testing (I think the number approaches 200 in the past decade). When Saints Augustine, Aquinas, and Paul formulated their views they naturally had no concept of this process. (2) I think life without parole, or maybe even life in solitary, is a far greater penalty than a quick death. Imagine the Marathon bomber looking forward to a half century, or more, alone, disgraced, unwept, unsung.

    • BPS

      Would you feel the same if the marathon bomber shanked a prison guard, leaving his wife and children widows? How about if he raped and murdered a child molester, perhaps a model prisoner serving a 5 year sentence? A car thief serving 2 years? Just want to see how far your misplaced compassion goes.

      • Bro_Ed

        I admit to having all the same human biases you quote in these horrible examples. My basic point though is “assurance of guilt.” Once a person is executed there is no way to balance the scale of justice if he is later proved not guilt by virtue of DNA testing and other modern techniques. Before anyone is put to death, I think we have an obligation to prove absolute guilt absolutely. Without that, we are left with “reasonable doubt.”

  • Ohso

    A well written and timely article. As a Catholic I am opposed in Almost All circumstances to the Death Penalty, as even the most hardened convicts may be able to truly repent over time and reflection, and we should not deny them the chance.

    That said, I also agree with the Execution of former ‘Crips’ Gang Leader – Stanley ‘tookie’ Williams in California, as one example of the certain small exceptions that Justify the Death Penalty.

    Williams was the head of one of the most notorious criminal gangs in America, personally responsible for untold amounts of Death & suffering at his and his minions hands. As an American of African descent he and his gang preyed mostly on others of their race, as well as those who strayed on to their ‘Turf’ – but anybody was a target of opportunity.

    The Big Difference is that even in Prison as a Convicted Murderer, ‘tookie’ Still was The Boss – and was able to Lead the Gang even from there. Although it took a prison network inside and out and willing lieutenants to help, ‘tookie’ was still the supreme leader and ultimate authority figure in maintaining the cohesiveness of his Murderous Gang.

    In Short – Prison did Not Stop ‘tookie’ From Killing by Orders, it only insulated him from Street Retaliation – and Only by his Death or Reversal of Role could this ongoing Evil be thwarted.

    Ultimately – the Governor (‘Der-Arnold’, himself busy being blackmailed while in office by political activist radicals over his allegedly ‘secret’ Extra Son) – Offered to Commute the Death Sentence properly handed down – provided ‘Tookie’ showed he had changed and Helped the State break up His Gang.

    Showing what a Proud Monster he was – ‘tookie’ Refused Clemency if it meant giving up his Status as Chief Gang Banger, and chose Death Himself – over turning ‘traitor’ to a Murderous Street Gang.

    I think that this is an Appropriate Place to End Things, as the Ongoing Evil that ‘tookie’ Enabled would have continued under other circumstances. When even maximum security Prison fails to Protect the Lives of People (including Guards & their families- who Also have a Right to be Safe from the Criminal Incarcerated) – then there is one final step to End the Evil.

    Too many Innocent People (almost all Men) have been executed (or exonerated after long imprisonment) to loosely apply any Death Penalty, and if there is Any Doubt then Killing Them is a Great Wrong, even if they are not very nice people anyway.

    However – The Innocent who would be Victims of Monsters such as ‘tookie’ and his Gang deserve protection of their Lives too, and if this is the Only way to do so (given the current system & ‘prisoner rights’ rules) then it Is Acceptable, and no matter how distasteful becomes a Duty to the Innocent.

    • Billy

      The criminal‘s best opportunity for conversion and reparation, is by imitating St.Dismas.

    • BPS

      Again, I state the truth–there has NEVER been a proven case of an innocent person ACTUALLY EXECUTED in the U.S. Also, it should be said that degradation of DNA evidence by time, heat, exposure can result in false negatives (google degradation of DNA evidence to see). This has often led to the release of inmates who may be guilty. I’m sure all agree that if there is a question of guilt, no prisoner should be executed.

      • Mr_George_Moore

        The existnce of God hasn’t been “proven” either. However: “University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross led a team of experts in the law and in statistics that estimated the likely number of unjust convictions. The study determined that at least 4% of people on death row were and are innocent. The research was peer reviewed and the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published it, Gross has no doubt that some innocent people have been executed.”

        Whether a man be actually guilty is not the issue here. The issue is: under what circumstances is it appropriate to knowingly take another’s life? It may be necessary under certain circumstances to take another’s life, but never, I believe, because someone merely deserves it.

  • Jim Loiacono

    St. John Paul II stated in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, that there are instances where capital punishment is necessary if the person poses a particularly dangerous, ongoing situation, though it should be rare. This question is so serious that it cannot be glad handled or dealt with without the most serious consideration. St. Thomas Aquinas insisted that It is ultimately about a human life, and that love of our enemies, personal or societal, is the operative mode, even in war or the death penalty. Nonetheless, he did not disagree with war or capital punishment.reestablishing just order.
    I was once totally against it, but in the face of drug lords, terrorists and producers of child pornography, all of whom traffic in human lives, the death of the innocent and wreak great destruction on individuals and countries, it seemed naïve and even hurtful to the common good not to impose a penalty which demonstrates the collective repugnance to such crimes, prevents more innocents’ being threatened or killed to procure their release from prison and prevents their reentry to a vulnerable society.
    Perhaps the one critical and absolute criterion must be undeniable guilt. In too many murder conviction, as well as other catagories of crime, the person is found innocent after either execution or after having spent many years imprisoned, Perhaps, the death penalty best not be applied to any category of crimes, no matter how egregious, where innocence can be proven later. That’s why I’ve restricted my choice to the above three during these many years.

    • BPS

      There has NEVER been a proven case of an innocent person actually executed in the U.S.

  • Manfred

    Boston’s John Geoghan, the notorious ex-priest who was imprisoned for abusing boys (he abused at least 230 of them), was killed while in prison by a convict who was serving a life sentence.
    Fr. McCloskey, thank you for your article which highlights the effect of NOT teaching Magisterial Catechetics and Moral Theology. Traditionalists have learned to avoid most of the media which assert they speak for the Church.

    • BPS

      What’s terrible is that many of the people who are against capital punishment by the state are ok when other prisoners do this (watch them talk with a gleam in their eye about how other prisoners treat child molesters). But the same inmates who would do this like this to Fr. Geoghan (not ex-priest, once a priest always a priest–but he did deserve prison, but not death) will also rape and murder other prisoners, often over trivial matters. They also attack and kill guards. In Europe, prisons have resorted to permanent solitary confinement or drugging these prisoners. I think a dignified death penalty is much more humane than these practices.

  • David Lukenbill

    Thank you for a wonderful article.

    At this point, after a deluge of calls for abolition by all levels of the Church hierarchy, it is not surprising, as ToniStimmel notes, that most folks think the Church is against capital punishment, when, as your article makes clear, it is not, nor has ever been.

    I am a former professional criminal—thief and robber—who spent 12 years in maximum security prisons and can testify to the evil of many criminals who, without capital punishment, will and do kill again.

    During RCIA, I dropped my support for capital punishment, being taught that the Church was against it.

    As time went on and I began an apostolate of helping to reform criminals, I studied the issue in depth, and researching the same sources—and the many more out there—cited by Fr. McCloskey, came to the same conclusion, which my apostolate, The Lampstand Foundation, published as a book, “Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support”.

  • melanie statom

    What remains the troubling, stumbling stone in this question is the witness of Jesus Christ himself. Can we kill, in his name? Did he kill or advocate killing? Christians cannot help but be morally troubled.

    • Burger Fan

      In Luke 19 Jesus does in fact point to the use of capital punishment by society. In His parable, the King says “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.” This is not advocacy for capital punishment. I see it as recognition that the state sometimes has valid recourse to it.

      • melanie statom

        It is a mistake to allegorize the kings and masters in the parables as Jesus or God himself, ( for an alternate reading and interpretation see Paul Neuchterlein’s Girardian lectionary). The use of violence to counter violence is definitively not the witness of Jesus Christ. The Gospel witness of Jesus actively undermines and compromises all our attempts to sacralize violence.

        • “The use of violence to counter violence is definitively not the witness of Jesus Christ.”

          Except that Christ Himself affirmed that Pilate’s authority to order capital punishment came from God. And, when the Good Thief admitted that his deeds merited death, Christ did not contradict him…

          “The Gospel witness of Jesus actively undermines and compromises all our attempts to sacralize violence.”

          If anything, the Gospel accounts reinforce the idea that capital punishment is consistent with a just society.

          • melanie statom

            Into our hands we are given a Eucharistic mystery which we can reject. This rejection can take many forms, one is our zealous defense of the violence we claim, is committed in his name and ” for the common good” . In this we remain in grave error. St. Paul only came to know this, on the conversion road to Damascus in his encounter with the Risen Christ…that road is the same road we walk today and the same voice who asks of him, ” Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me”?, is the same Lord who proclaims ” If you do it to the least you do it unto me.”

          • St Paul himself affirmed the use of capital punishment.

            And interpreting the ‘least among you’ formulation to (tacitly) defend criminals is morally disturbing.

          • melanie statom

            Yes it is disturbing and confounding, yet there it is…there He is!…confound it all!…confounding us all! The depth of conversion we Christians are called to is an unfolding of a revelation of the mystery of God we have yet to fathom in its enormous implications. In our not so distant past, we thought it mightily ok to bring picnic lunches and young children to hangings. What has changed? The gospel as leavening seed, ever expands and points to the “victim of the moment” . In each of us, saint and sinner, the Risen Christ says, ” See me…recognize me. ” On our sacrifical altars where sinners and saints are elevated or “get their due” Christ tells us and shows us, ” I am taking away this sin of the world…your recourse to violence…you are going to find it hard to live without it. I give myself as Eucharistic bread and definitive model to imitate. ” The only true substitute for our violence is Christ. All scripture must be read in the light of the truth revealed in the person of Jesus Christ who loved all to the end and is at work now among us.

  • JKealey

    But what is the moral good of the death penalty in a modern society that is able to keep a hardened criminal in prison his entire life and thus keep its citizens safe? One cannot justify the death penalty because some criminals had conversions beforehand. This is to argue that conversions could only happen this way– a line of thinking that enters God’s realm of omniscience. This well-researched article does not explain why we, in North America, should have the death penalty and why Catholics should support it.

    • Burger Fan

      The moral good is justice being served. If you re-read the article and look for that you can see that is one of the reasons the Church has always allowed for capital punishment. Jesus Himself pointed to the occasional necessity of the state to resort to capital punishment in Luke 19, in the parable which contains the line “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.”

      • JKealey

        It’s a bit mind-blurring, reading one quote against another. We can all quote church leaders, saints, even the Bible for backing up our arguments as we see fit. I just can’t see how killing a criminal will help establish God’s kingdom on earth, if we can keep our most dangerous citizens behind bars. If they are able to influence and harm people from behind bars, then there’s some correction to do with that problem. Are you saying justice for justice’s sake is enough of an argument? At one point are Christians allowed to throw up their hands at a particular case and say “you are beyond hope and redemption”?

        • Laurence Charles Ringo

          I keep hearing various catholics speak of…”helping establish God’s Kingdom on Earth”…I keep asking this question: When and where did Almighty God ask our help to establish HIS Kingdom? I’ve posited this fact before,and I cannot stress this enough: The Scriptures NEVER indicates that Almighty God needs help to do ANYTHING;the very idea is beyond ludicrous,Jkealey,and I would be interested in knowing where such a concept originated.I await your reply.

  • Billy

    Thank you Father McCloskey, if you please, allow me to express a passage from Sacred Scripture, that I have always leaned on to justify the use of capital punishment. Luke 23:39-43. Here we find St.Dismas, the Good Thief, who stole Heaven. He states, “and indeed we have been ondemned justly, for our penalty corresponds to our crimes…..” Jesus replys, “TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE”.

    The death penalty is the best way for the criminal to offer his/her life in reparation for their sin.

    • Stephen R Sanchez

      Billy, perhaps I can leave you with another scripture passage: Matthew 9:13 “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””

  • Stephen R Sanchez

    The “legitimate authority of the State” is a tricky concept. Certainly when those that you quote above were living, the “State” was a very different thing. It was smaller, more localized, more personalized, and ultimately with an order that subjected all of reality to God. The modern liberal state (I won’t even begin with discussing Islamic states) has a radically different political order, an autonomous self-referentialism that necessarily extracts the ultimate reference point of the Creator from the social order.

    I wonder whether a Christian can assent to the claim that the modern state has the legitimate authority to punish with death without also assenting to the notion that the modern state can determine when life begins, or should be protected. I also wonder if we have even really begun to understand the claims that have been made in the social encyclicals (from Rerum Novarum to Centesimus Annus) about the nature of the modern state and the inherent challenge posed by liberalism.

    It might be interesting to invite David Schindler, Michael Baxter, or Alisdair MacIntyre to weigh in on this conversation.

    • BPS

      If it doesn’t have the the legitimate authority to punish with death, it doesn’t have the authority to punish with imprisonment or fine either.

  • SJM

    I can not and will not agree with the Church’s opinion that those that are chosen by Government to judge and, by extension, execute a wrongdoer are free from sin. The Church has assumed a warm-and-fuzzy position that capital punisment goes against Christian doctrine prohibiting the taking of another man’s life, but the Government’s decision to do so will not be considered by the Church to be an affront to that same Christian doctrine.
    This sounds very similar to the old, worn out ‘pro-choice’ mantra – Abortion isn’t acceptable for me, but if you’re ok with it….

    Either we accept responsibility for our contribution in the death of a criminal, or we don’t accept responsibility for anything we do.

  • Pope Pius XII said, “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.” – Well reasoned teaching. Thank you Rev. Fr. McCloskey!
    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
    In his book on Hell, Father F.X. Schouppe, S.J. relates the following: “Natural reason confirms the dogma of hell. An atheist was once boasting that he did not believe in hell. Among his hearers, there was a sensible young man, modest, but who thought that he ought to shut the silly speaker’s mouth. He put to him a single question: “Sir,” he said, “the kings of the earth have prisons to punish their wicked subjects; how can God, the King of the Universe, be without a prison for those who outrage His majesty?” The atheist of course had not a word to answer. The appeal was presented to the light of his own reason, which proclaims that, if kings have prisons, God must likewise have a hell.” – See more at: Stories of hell in lives of saints | Mystics of the Church.
    People can incur the eternal punishment which is hell and which Revelation refers to as the second death (recall that because of Adam, we suffer the first death). It seems very reasonable to me that some crimes incur capital punishment. 1 Peter 2:13-14 (RSVCE): Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[a] whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. – See more at: The Death Penalty and the Traditional Teaching of the Church | The American Catholic.
    Cf. Romans 13:3-5 (RSVCE) 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. […] 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

  • Fr. James

    Considering the current abysmal state of our culture and government, growing in its nihilistic, pro-death, anti-family and anti-religious and conscience freedom positions, do we actually trust the State to justly and fairly apply the ultimate and final [earthly] sentence against a human person, the taking of his life? I do not. Be careful what you wish for. -Fr. James Bromwich, The Sons of St. Philip Neri & Neri Institute

    • John Albertson

      By that convoluted logic, the government should not exercise any penalties in law enforcement or the judicial forum. That would be like saying the Church should not exercise ecclesiastical authority because some of clergy are corrupt Abusus non tollit usum.

      • Fr. James

        Apparently you missed my point of the application of the death penalty, which perhaps I made inadequately. Therefore, I will reference someone much wiser than I. Concerning the retributive nature of capital punishment and the State’s participation in Divine justice (as you pointed out), Avery Cardinal Dulles, in a 2001 FT article, stated, “For the symbolism to be authentic, the society must believe in the existence of a transcendent order of justice, which the State has an obligation to protect. This has been true in the past, but in our day the State is generally viewed simply as an instrument of the will of the governed. In this modern perspective, the death penalty expresses not the divine judgment on objective evil but rather the collective anger of the group. The retributive goal of punishment is misconstrued as a self-assertive act of vengeance.” Dulles goes on to conclude that, “The doctrine [of the Church] remains what it has been: that the State, in principle, has the right to impose the death penalty on persons convicted of very serious crimes. But the classical tradition held that the State should not exercise this right when the evil effects outweigh the good effects. Thus the principle still leaves open the question whether and when the death penalty ought to be applied. The Pope and the bishops, using their prudential judgment, have concluded that in contemporary society, at least in countries like our own, the death penalty ought not to be invoked, because, on balance, it does more harm than good. I personally support this position.”

        • Elijah fan

          Fr. James,
          So Rome unlike the US had transcendent justice and not multiple gods ( Jupiter was worshipped at the Capitoline hill in concert with Juno and Minerva) the time of Romans 13:4 according to Cardinal Avery Dulles? So a government that let lions eat Christians was transcendent when God placed Rom.13:4 in the scriptures in the context of that very flawed culture? I think the Cardinal was doing the hermeneutic of continuity thing which frankly in many cases requires a talent in fiction. Go to youtube and type in ” Mexican prison murder” and in that second largest Catholic population, you will see cartel men in white athletic tops enter a prison unobstructed and collar the guards and scare them into giving them the cell key after which more cartel men enter with uzi and tech 9 kind of guns and they machine gun the rival cartel’s inmates. Brazil is similar. The catechism was adverting to safe Euro countries with small poor populations and thus low murder rates in ccc 2267 and it did not look at Mexican prisons which a Mexican official said are 60% cartel controlled. 40% of Catholics are in Latin American. Read their murder rates by googling homicide by country wiki.

        • Laureen

          Thank you for this post, Father; appreciate it! Such sound reasoning & logic.

    • Elijah fan

      By that logic, God was then incorrect for Providentially inspiring Romans 13:4 through Paul within the Roman Empire which had just executed Christ unjustly. Talk about context. The Bishops should be seeking to raise the judicial parameters like evidence levels…we could exclude circumstantial cases while requiring two witnesses like God did in Deuteronomy. The murderer in the Gaffy Giffords case is beyond all doubt and there are many such cases of a public shooter on video and with multiple witnesses. If SCOTUS was correct in 1976 as it ended its own suspension of the death penalty, when it noted that executions do not deter passion murders but do deter premeditated murders…then it follows that the Church by seeking abolition…will get murder victims killed especially in northern Latin America all of which have very high or high murder rates of a criminal pre meditated nature.

  • Elijah fan

    St. John Paul II felt free on this issue to leave out of Evangelium Vitae the two classic Biblical death penalty quotations addressed to gentiles…Gen.9:6 and Romans 13:4. He saw the first of those and cites in EV sect.39 the words both prior to the execution mandate of 9:6 and the words after the execution mandate but he never shows the reader the center of the couplet of 9:5-6 which reads…” if anyone shed the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed”. The passage is not speaking to a kind of karma because David was a “man of blood” according to scripture and died of old age….as do many police, military and criminals. The two largest Catholic populations are Brazil and Mexico…no death penalties, awful prisons, and murder rates of 25 per 100,000 and 21 per 100,000 respectively. All of East Asia by those same UN stats has a murder rate of 1.1 per 100,000 largely with the death penalty excluding the Phillipines which has 8 murders per 100,000. Catholic Central America has 31.1 murders per 100,000 …no death penalties. Colombia, Venuezuela also have awful murder rates. East Asia just might think we are not the group to teach others on this topic.

    • “The two largest Catholic populations are Brazil and Mexico…no death penalties, awful prisons, and murder rates of 25 per 100,000 and 21 per 100,000 respectively.”

      Not to mention that both nations are blighted by criminal gangs which carry out their own extra-legal form of capital punishment, only absent any respect for due process and in furtherance of such horrors as drug trafficking and sexual slavery.

      Mexico’s prohibition on capital punishment is especially laughable considering how the narcos have become a state-within-a-state and execute thousands of people every year.

  • Sev

    But the argument is that “that was then, this is now”, we are more civilized, we can keep murderers behind bars for life, yadda yadda yadda and so forth.

    • Laureen

      Why not, Sev?
      Please read this–every line, please, about 10 minutes’ time–& then get flippant about keeping murderers behind bars:
      If & when the defendant in a capital case admits to his/her guilt–as does/did Timothy McVey, Karla Faye Tucker, Jodi Arias, Kelly Gissendaner…—then apply the ultimate punishment.
      But not to those who vigorously oppose the charge, & lack the means to prove innocence.

  • Rick Azevedo

    Leftists are the rabble, and they are forcing the Church and the world into global tyranny before our eyes. May God have mercy on us. JPII was a leftist, and so was Benedict.

    • $22834185

      There are good Catholic psychiatrists out there. One needn’t suffer from this kind of mental Illness for his whole life, Rick

  • senex

    Part of the problem may be the translation of he Hebrew term ‘ratsach’ by the generic term ‘kill’, whereas that term, as I understand it, refers to ‘murder’ of a human being. See also MT 19:18 where the Greek term is phoneuo’, also referring slaying a human being. Since only the original language of the texts are inspired, perhaps a more precise translation would remove some of the controversy.

  • I do believe that some members of society have lost the right to be among us. They obviously can’t conform to rules and the law of the land.
    I’ve noticed that none of the commenters have volunteered to be the one doing the executions. So it’s easy for us to say a person must die for their crimes against society as long as we are not asked to push the button or inject the criminal.
    BTW in an earlier post BPS claims that Pope John Paul II broke with 2000 years of Catholic teaching on this matter. Are you saying that the Church’s teachings have never changed. I’m only 63 and I have lived through many changes in Church teachings. I would hope that the Church would always be changing. There have been Councils and encyclicals for centuries helping us to better understand life, our Saviour and our world. And I believe Peter and Paul had to have discussions at a very early stage of our Church history about certain teachings directed at Gentiles.
    God bless.

    • BPS

      I’d have no problem being an executioner! I’m not being glib, I think it’s a noble office, and performs a necessary function in civilization. I couldn’t be a jailer (locked in prison with inmates all day) but if I could just show up on execution days and cut a murderer’s head off, I’m in! I’d be one like the ax-welder in “A Man for All Seasons”, and always ask for forgiveness from those I execute.
      I’ll also challenge your assertion that church teachings have changed. Practices (fish on Friday, Latin or vernacular Mass) have changed, but name one church doctrine (teaching on faith or morals) which has?
      The question about government (and in a democratic republic, we voters are in some sense the government) applying the death penalty is a moral question. I’d don’t believe any of the church’s moral teachings have ever changed, but you’re partially right that our understanding of these teachings have developed. But I don’t want to belong to a church that calls this thing moral one day, and then calls it immoral the next day. If I did, I’d become a Mormon.

    • Dave Fladlien

      You make some very good points. I too hope the Church keeps changing it’s teachings, and I too agree that it does so. It has to. As I understand it, Pope St. John XXIII said shortly before his death that “…it is true that the Gospel doesn’t change, but our understanding does.” We have the Holy Spirit Himself guiding us, so we should go forward, even though, just like those before us, we will not always get it right.

      And in those instances where, with proper reflection and investigation, prayer and discernment, we disagree with the new or the old position, then we must follow our now-properly-formed conscience. The organization, the formal Church, has to go the way the present leadership takes it, or we won’t have an organization at all.

      Thanks for raising this point

  • John Albertson

    I agree totally and whole heatedly with Father McCloskey. I only ask if he would agree that it was inappropriate for John Paul II to include in an official Catechism his own prudential opinion about the exercise of capital penalty. Far as I know, it is the first instance of a prudential opinion being included in an official Catechism. I can think of at least one instance when Pope John Paul II successfully obtained the mitigation of the death sentence of a murderer in the United States who went on to kill another innocent victim.

  • mwidunn

    Most importantly, the Catholic Church’s Magisterium does not and never has advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty. . . . nor, has the Magisterium advocated its unqualified support for using the death penalty, either.

    St. John Paul II, although opposed to most applications of the death penalty, thought the same. Really? Only through some kind of garbled reading of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, no. 56, could one make such a statement.

    Catechism of the Council of Trent? Why don’t you cite the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. no. 2267)? Could it be, because His Holiness Pope St. John Paul II specifically cites the Catechism’s view, that bloodless, non-lethal means should be used in the punishment of the criminal?

    And there are other, utterly unexpected effects. The great Catholic convert and evangelist Frank Sheed wrote a book called The Map of Life. In one edition of the book, he tells of a man sentenced to death for murder. After reading Sheed’s book, the man wrote Sheed that, if what he had put down in that book about heaven and forgiveness was true, though he was offered clemency by the State, he decided to allow the execution, because he would be going to heaven now as a Catholic convert. Are you kidding me? Is this Fr. McCloskey serious?

    Such a one-sided, distorted presentation as this one could hardly in my humble opinion be called a “traditional” view of capital punishment. Perhaps, Fr. McCloskey should consider submitting his opinions FIRST to the Diocesan Censor (see C. I. C., nos. 822 ff.) before airing them out for all to read on the Internet

    • SMC

      Pope John Paul II was infected with modern errors in regards to punishment. For him, it was mainly about protecting society, but traditionally punishment is first and foremost about retribution and paying for one’s crime. The good Lord will sentence unrepentant sinners to hell for all eternity. The saints in heaven don’t need protection from them and rehabilitation is impossible. Yet God demands an eternal punishment for them in order that their infinite offenses against Him might be punished somewhat proportionately.

      • mwidunn

        Pope John Paul II was infected with modern errors in regards to punishment.

        “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail,” Lk. 22:31-32a. This I believe about the Vicar of Christ, the Pope of Rome.

        • SMC

          As is the case with many Catholics today, they fail to distinguish between the pope as a private doctor versus the pope speaking as successor of St. Peter in an official capacity. If one fell into expanding papal infallibility beyond its proper limit, then one could never explain the errors, for example, of John XXII, who denied the beatific vision for the souls of the saints until the final judgment. In days when the Faith was important, John XXII was confronted, resisted, and corrected. But today, we live in a world where the cult of personality reigns and the Faith loses out to personal magnetism. Pope John Paul II was simply wrong on this matter and that is why Cardinal Ratzinger clearly stated that one could be at odds with this position of the pope. If Pope John Paul II’s thoughts on capital punishment were actually “teachings” or “doctrines,” then how could anyone be allowed to be “at odds” on this matter? Do not turn the liberal appeal of John Paul II in regards to the death penalty into doctrines, because they simply are not. In fact, any Catholic could completely reject his appeal as being infected with the errors of the Enlightenment and of atheists who, by the way, are the biggest supporters of abolishing the death penalty. I would suggest that you simply look up quotations on this matter from the Old and New Testament, from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, from all the popes and councils, and yes even the 1992 CCC. You will find complete agreement in regards to the death penalty with no mention at all of “non-lethal” means. This is a novel phrase unheard of in the history of the Church. Alcatraz was a prison that kept criminals in and no one got out. But they still had executions nonetheless and no pope or bishop complained.

  • texasknight

    Our house is on Fire! 58 million innocent little human beings, hidden in their mothers womb have been ripped to pieces or chemically fried unto death. This in the US alone. Its 1.7 billion world wide. And know this. Jesus has watched each and every one of them!
    People say, “what about capital punishment?” We allowed the murder of more little humans before noon today – THAT’S IN LESS THAN ONE DAY – than all the guilty criminals executed in the US over the last 40 years. How about a little proportionate focus for the 1st sin that cried out to Heaven for vengeance. Imagine 9/11 every day! We allow the murder of more little humans each and every day than were murdered by the terrorist that day. That is the reality of abortion. People say, “what about war?” We allowed the murder of more US pre-born babies in 2012 than all of the US deaths caused by war since and including the Revolutionary War. If we don’t get this right, none of the rest matters…
    St. Pope JPII said, “Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life.” Note that he didn’t say, “try.”

    Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy. Amen.

    • Stephen R Sanchez

      So, tell me, what’s the difference between 1 and 1 million in front of the Infinite? Would he leave the 99 for the 1? He doesn’t practice your math.

  • joxxer

    Thank you for your clear and concise explanation. Many Catholics today are misled, and easily herded along without thought. They simply go along with whatever they ASSUME is the Church’s stance. Our last pastor explained it as you have. We are fortunate to have SOME good priests out there that know the correct teaching on the subject. Again THANK YOU!!

    • geoffrobinson

      “Many Catholics today are misled, and easily herded along without thought. They simply go along with whatever they ASSUME is the Church’s stance.”

      Isn’t this the fruit of denying Sola Scriptura and letting people know they have the responsibility for reading and understanding Scripture? They are constantly being told that they need the Church to explain things for them by at least online Catholic apologists. Couldn’t that be the source of this problem? They don’t know when it’s OK to disagree with he Magisterium because they are told the Magisterium trumps their understanding of Scripture.

  • Great read and much needed after that scurrilous editorial.

    Thanks especially for the Augustine quote, it’s excellent.

  • bdog

    Personally, I could never inject the poison into or pull the lever to electrocute or gas a confined and subdued human being. I believe I couldnt because, deep in my soul, I would find my action heinous and sinful. The person may be guilty and the sentence of death just but this person is also defenseless. How could I kill a defenseless human? I simply couldn’t.

    And if I can’t do it myself, how can I ask someone else to do it for me? My conscious tells me it isn’t right.

    • Elijah fan

      You are aware though that God ordered the Jews to execute just such people n the Old Covenant in the first Person imperative and said in the New Testament…” not without reason does the state carry the sword for it is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who does evil”….Rom.13:4.

      • bdog

        Not close to my interpretation. Sorry.

        • Elijah fan

          Machaira…sword…there in Rom.13:4 is used in Acts 12:2 wherein Herod executes James with the machaira. But “wrath” is just as key. Show us in scripture where wrath in whatever form is used for a prison term rather than death. I read scripture cover to cover…can’t remember one passage that does so.

          • bdog

            We read the New Testament differently it seems. That’s fine. If you personally can kill a restrained and defenseless man for vengeance and in cold blood, so be it. I can’t and I won’t ask someone else to do it for me. That’s a cowards way out. God bless.

          • Elijah fan

            You’re actually revealing that you can’t kill without vengeance. Others can. Google these words ” Bugatti papal executioner wiki”. He executed 500 criminals in the papal states from 1796 til 1850 and you can’t do that if you feel vengeance. Romans 13:4 is talking about God’s vengeance not man’s as in ” Vengeance is mine saith the Lord, I will repay.”

    • geoffrobinson

      Your conscience is wrong.

      • bdog

        Thanks for clearing that up for me. Your logic is compelling.

        • geoffrobinson

          You may feel that way due to socialization, etc., but it doesn’t matter. Read Genesis 9. In fact, read the entire Torah. The death penalty is all over the place.

          Assuming you are Catholic and not a Marcionite, you should come to the conclusion that God was OK with the death penalty as long as safeguards were there (3 witnesses for murder). God does not change.

          • bdog

            Geoff…we agree that God never changes and is never wrong. My point is different. My mission in life is to love God above all else and to love my neighbor as myself (a mission I fail at far too frequently). I believe that killing a restrained and defenseless person for the sake of vengeance is not remotely a loving act towards that individual. Accordingly, I personally could not execute another human being under those circumstances and in cold blood. I couldn’t pull that trigger knowing my sole motivation was to extract vengeance. My Christian conscience would not let me do so. I’m not judging anyone else with my words, I’m simply describing my intellectual and spiritual internal conclusion.

          • TomD

            bdog, part of the difficulty in interpreting the appropriateness of the death penalty is confounding the ideas of vengeance and justice. If vengeance is the motivation, or the supposed motivation attributed to others, then you are most likely led to one conclusion about the death penalty.

            If, however, justice is your motivation, the conclusion you come to may be quite different.

            Our presuppositions very often guide our judgment about issues. Sometimes our presuppositions are right; sometimes our presuppositions are wrong. As Catholics, our presuppositions should first be based on the teachings of the Church, the broad, time-honored traditions that anchor our faith, not primarily on our own internal judgments and conclusions. Church teaching can certainly develop and modify over time, but the development and modification should be based on full, deep knowledge and reflection on the traditional teachings of the Church.

          • Fr Kloster

            Pope Pius XII told a group of jurists in 1955 that the death penalty is medicinal. I did my Moral Theology dissertation on this subject. It matters not one iota what you or I believe personally. I trust the traditional teaching of the Church. In fact, Jesus allows himself to be punished via capital punishment. “You would have no power over me unless it had not been given to you from above.” (John 19:11) Jesus was innocent and was punished by capital punishment. He, of course, redeemed us! God sorts things out. We cannot refuse capital punishment on the argument that an innocent man may be killed. When we do not have capital punishment, far too many more innocent victims are not protected from death.

          • bdog

            Father…thank you for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate it. Two questions for you. First, I have always supported capital punishment if, indeed, it truly protects innocent lives, that it’s mere existence acts as a deterrent against those who would murder. I have searched for evidence over the years to support this hypothesis but have found none. I believe that publication of such verifiable data would be a powerful argument in favor of continued capital punishment in this country.

            Secondly, as I wrote previously, I could not execute someone who was no longer a lethal threat to society. I couldn’t pull the trigger on a restrained and defenseless human being. And I won’t ask someone else to do it for me, that would be cowardly. Consequently, I ask why the preferred moral solution is to keep the criminal incarcerated for the remainder of their life as opposed to execution?

            Thank you and God bless.

          • BPS

            The death penalty applied to a duly convicted murderer will definitely deter him from murdering again.
            And a convicted murderer in prison, who knows he cannot be punished more harshly than he already is, is more likely to kill prison guards and other prisoners. So he is a lethal threat to the society of prisoners.
            Repectfully, you are writing nonsense.

          • bdog

            Show me the data to support your assertions. Conjecture isn’t sufficient on this serious of a topic.

          • BPS

            The first assertion is self-evident, unless you can show me a dead man who has committed murder.

            The homicide rate in state prisons increased 24%, from 5 homicides per 100,000 state prisoners in 2011 to 7 per 100,000 in 2012.

          • bdog

            Were homicides committed by convicted murderers who received a death sentence but hadnt been executed yet?

  • TexasKnight it’s hard to dispute your take on abortion versus capital punishment and war. Imagine proposing to Western democracies today that abortion be treated as killing and thus we sentence mother and doctor to a death sentence? It is curious though that you would use JP II’s quote …”woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life.” Aren’t we taking another life with capital punishment?
    BPS I admire your willingness to be the executioner. I think there wouldn’t be a huge lineup for that job.
    The Church certainly struggled defining mortal and venial sins and the Fathers took centuries to determine Mary’s status. And there was plenty of disagreement on the Assumption.

  • geoffrobinson

    As a Reformed Protestant who is very often told by Roman Catholics that I need your church to understand the Bible, reading the Bible by myself I came to the conclusion that the death penalty justly administered is a good thing. Relying on the Catholic hierarchy to tell me what to believe would leave me with a totally different impression.

    • Elijah fan

      That’s the recent hierarchy….Pope Pius XII would agree with you in this matter 100%.

      • Joe Knippenberg

        If we agree that we are not infallible human beings, how is it that we can (always) “justly” administer the death penalty, a penalty that cannot be undone?

        • 1Brett1

          Yes, exactly, Joe, especially as historically there have been many cases of innocent people being wrongfully convicted of a heinous crime and wrongfully been put to death.

          Being wrongfully put to death is a miscarriage of justice and amounts to state-sponsored murder. And, as you say, it is a penalty that can not be undone; in fact, it is the ONLY penalty when committed as a miscarriage of justice that can not be undone. Other miscarriages of justice have the potential to be reversed, allowing for the wrongfully accused to be exonerated, even compensated for their trouble.

  • melanie statom

    Into our hands we are given a Eucharistic mystery which we can reject. This rejection can take many forms, one is our zealous defense of the violence we claim, is committed in his name and ” for the common good” . In this we remain in grave error. St. Paul only came to know this, on the conversion road to Damascus in his encounter with the Risen Christ…that road is the same road we walk today and the same voice who asks of him, ” Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me”?, is the same Lord who proclaims ” If you do it to the least you do it unto me. ”

    And yes this is a ” morally disturbing” and confounding, truth we Christians cannot avoid because there He is, right in the middle of it all!…” Confound it all!…confounding us all! The depth of conversion we Christians are called to is an unfolding of a revelation of the mystery of God we have yet to fathom in its enormous implications. In our not so distant past, we thought it mightily ok to bring picnic lunches and young children to hangings. What has changed? The gospel as leavening seed, ever expands and points to the “victim of the moment” . In each of us, saint and sinner, the Risen Christ says, ” See me…recognize me. ” On our sacrifical altars where sinners and saints are elevated or “get their due” Christ tells us and shows us, ” I am taking away this sin of the world…your recourse to violence…you are going to find it hard to live without it. I give myself as Eucharistic bread and definitive model to imitate. ” The only true substitute for our violence is Christ. All scripture must be read in the light of the truth revealed in the person of Jesus Christ who loved all to the end and is at work now among us…the one Lord who sets the bar further than we dare go in our unaided humanity.

    • Elijah fan

      Except real “developments” in the Church:
      A. are not abrupt ( Newman)
      B. do not render void verses like Romans 13:4 from the Paul you referenced and which came from the Holy Spirit in the first place.
      C. do not get murder victims killed far into the future from a lack of deterrence. Both in Newark and in the South, criminals with court mandated phone freedom….ordered friends to murder witnesses who testified against them. Advanced penology did not protect those now dead witnesses.

  • bernie

    Reality: Three young men are convicted of murder. the Trigger got the death penalty and died talking about “Allah” after some sort of ‘conversion’. The second gets life with no parole. Statistically he will have totted for 60 years in prison when he dies an abused and degenerate man. The third, the snitch, after years in prison learning the ways of criminality may have gotten out already and stands a good chance of death for turning on his fellows. Can anyone doubt who got the best deal?

    • Charles Ryder

      Is this a hypothetical example? If it is, then it is not reality.

      • bernie

        Yes Charles, it did happen just as I
        said. The murder was totally callous and cruel. The victim was 21
        years old. She was the loveliest, most innocent, youngest child of a
        large and deeply Catholic family which forgave the murderers even
        before they were known or arrested.

        My belief is simply this: Capital
        punishment is not against the dogmatic teachings of the Church.
        It is a matter of prudential judgment.

        My personal judgment is that Justice,
        while we live in this world, is a matter of equity and solidarity
        with our fellow human beings. We owe it to them, and it is something
        God has left in our hands, not as an instrument of vengeance, but
        rather of profound love of neighbor. Without justice there is
        no motivation for many to live in peace, and matters of equity become
        arbitrary. Order and civilization are not arbitrary contrivances of
        human life. They are elements of our struggle to live as just
        people, even as we correctly assert that life in this world is not an
        absolute value.

        The ‘Scales of Justice’, though an
        analogy, are an adequate and real expression of the debt we owe our
        fellows. Deliberately and dispassionately to commit murder is a
        crime that demands equity.

  • Sebastian Sauerborn

    Thankfully us Catholics have a magisterium. By following the magisterium obediently we will have peace, as St Josemaria said. And so the Pope clarified on the Friday after this article was published that there can never be a crime so severe that the death penalty is justified. I am glad we can put this debate to rest for good and can live in the peace of obedience.

    • MBinSTL

      It actually heats up the debate. What Pope Francis said today in his address to the International Commission against the Death Penalty cannot be squared with the unambiguous teaching given in the Catechism of the Council of Trent (a.k.a. the Roman Catechism), public discourses given by Pope Pius XII in the middle of the 20th Century, and writings of the Doctors of the Church both between Trent and now, and beforehand.

      The death penalty cannot simultaneously be “an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment [Thou shalt not kill] which prohibits murder… giv[ing] security to life by repressing outrage and violence” (Roman Catechism) and “an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person, which contradicts God’s plan for man and society… foster[ing] vengeance” (Pope Francis, 20 Mar 2015).

      I pray for Pope Francis daily, and I respect his office and person, but he’s simply wrong on this point. What he said cannot be squared with the constant teaching of the Church of which he is the head shepherd on earth.

      I would like to point out that I am not a “fan” of the death penalty. The thought of someone being put to death, even justly, gives me a queasy feeling. But on such an important issue, it’s important to have a clear and consistent understanding. We get that from previous Popes and Councils and the Doctors of the Church. What we’re getting today is… confused.

    • Is it “magisterium” when it runs contrary to the deposit of faith (= Sacred scripture + Holy Tradition) and the Magisterium preceding it?

  • Tanknation

    I think the death penalty is more humane than to be locked up for years.

    • BPS

      Agreed tanknation! I’d rather a dignified execution, after being given the chance for repentence, confession, and communion, than long-term mind altering drugs (much practiced in Europe) or solitary confinement advocated by some in the U.S.

  • lupe gwiazdowski

    I think it is important in so many societal justice issues to remember that the duties and rights of the state are different from those of the individual Christian. Forgiveness, rehabilitation, protection etc are all responsibilities that are demanded by the Gospel according to one’s state in life and circumstances. What any one of us might do in a crisis moment or over a lifetime of reflection cannot be the arbiter of what a State should do in its provision for society and its great mix of souls. Retention of the principle of just capital punishment seems like wise theology.

  • LTCP

    One aspect of the death penalty is a positive to a criminal. We do not know when we will die and many try to play the game of “I will repent on my death bed.” So a criminal going to prison indefinitely will probably play this game. However, if a date is set and the execution is going forward, only an unrepentant would reject a priest at such a time. An otherwise aware criminal would accept the last opportunity and go to their death in the state of grace. And this is the ultimate goal.

    • Michel

      this would be a good justification for euthanasia,too

      • Turo

        No, they’re not the same. The one who did that must be put to death penlty…:)

        • Michel

          If you say that setting a fixed date for the execution of an human being is a plus for his salvation, why not extent this privilege to all of us? or at least to all of you, because I don’t share this opinion! 🙂

  • Keith Ricks

    I’ll side with Pope Francis ‘re the death penalty.The crime has been neutralized. There’s no threat to society. The state could possibly be taking away the convicted’s chance at redemption.

  • Excellent information! Someone should send this to Sister Helen Prejean who is being used as the poster woman to get rid of the death penalty!


    People used to be more concerned about people’s souls rather than our temporary lives here. Taking away the death penalty can take away a person’s chance to repent. IMHO it should be very limited but I believe there are times when it is needed.