There are thoughtful writings on both sides of this debate, but the pro death penalty side is stronger.
Even today, a Catholic in good standing can call for more executions, if their prudential judgement finds for that.
NOTE: Additional secular and additional Christian essays, are linked or referenced, below.
1) Avery Cardinal Dulles:
This recently deceased US Cardinal, in one of his final interviews (2006, published 2008), states that he thought the Church may return to a "more traditional posture" on the death penalty (and just war).
"Recent popes, Dulles conceded, beginning with John XXIIII, seem to have taken quasi-abolitionist positions on both matters. Yet used sparingly and with safeguards to protect the interests of justice, Dulles argued, both the death penalty and war have, over the centuries, been recognized by the church as legitimate, sometimes even obligatory, exercises of state power. The momentum of "internal solidification," he said, may lead to some reconsideration of these social teachings." (1)
Based upon the strength of the Catholic biblical, theological and traditional support for the death penalty as, partially, revealed, below, I think the Church will have to.
2) Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., considered one of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century.
"There are certain moral norms that have always and everywhere been held by the successors of the Apostles in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Although never formally defined, they are irreversibly binding on the followers of Christ until the end of the world." "Such moral truths are the grave sinfulness of contraception and direct abortion. Such, too, is the Catholic doctrine which defends the imposition of the death penalty." (2)
"Most of the Church's teaching, especially in the moral order, is infallible doctrine because it belongs to what we call her ordinary universal magisterium." (2)
"Equally important is the Pope's (Pius XII) insistence that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age and culture of Christianity." " . . . the Church's teaching on 'the coercive power of legitimate human authority' is based on 'the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine.' It is wrong, therefore 'to say that these sources only contain ideas which are conditioned by historical circumstances.' On the contrary, they have 'a general and abiding validity.' (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1955, pp 81-2)." (2)
3) Romano Amerio, a faithful Catholic Vatican insider, scholar, professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian) at the Council.
"The most irreligious aspect of this argument against capital punishment is that it denies its expiatory value which, from a religious point of view, is of the highest importance because it can include a final consent to give up the greatest of all worldly goods. This fits exactly with St. Thomas’s opinion that as well as canceling out any debt that the criminal owes to civil society, capital punishment can cancel all punishment due in the life to come. His thought is . . . Summa, 'Even death inflicted as a punishment for crimes takes away the whole punishment due for those crimes in the next life, or a least part of that punishment, according to the quantities of guilt, resignation and contrition; but a natural death does not.' The moral importance of wanting to make expiation also explains the indefatigable efforts of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist Beheaded, the members of which used to accompany men to their deaths, all the while suggesting, begging and providing help to get them to repent and accept their deaths, so ensuring that they would die in the grace of God, as the saying went." (3)
Some opposing capital punishment " . . . go on to assert that a life should not be ended because that would remove the possibility of making expiation, is to ignore the great truth that capital punishment is itself expiatory. In a humanistic religion expiation would of course be primarily the converting of a man to other men. On that view, time is needed to effect a reformation, and the time available should not be shortened. In God’s religion, on the other hand, expiation is primarily a recognition of the divine majesty and lordship, which can be and should be recognized at every moment, in accordance with the principle of the concentration of one’s moral life." (3)
Some death penalty opponents "deny the expiatory value of death; death which has the highest expiatory value possible among natural things, precisely because life is the highest good among the relative goods of this world; and it is by consenting to sacrifice that life, that the fullest expiation can be made. And again, the expiation that the innocent Christ made for the sins of mankind was itself effected through his being condemned to death." (3)
The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation
Saint (& Pope) Pius V, "The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder." "The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent" (1566).
Many other modern and ancient scholars, religious and secular
4) "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at
5) John Stuart Mill, speech on the death penalty
6) Pope John Paul II: Prudential Judgement and the death penalty
7) "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective", by Br. Augustine (Emmanuel Valenza)
8) "The Right of Punishing", Immanuel Kant,
9) "Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says", Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.
see approved synopsis, paragraph numbered 30, within
All interpretations, contrary to the biblical support of capital punishment, are false. Interpreters ought to listen to the Bible's own agenda, rather than to squeeze from it implications for their own agenda. As the ancient rabbis taught, "Do not seek to be more righteous than your Creator.' (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33.).
Listen carefully to the Bible as the Word of God rather than seek to improve upon it by means of human values. However meritorious mercy may be, however abundantly evident it may be in God's own dealings, murder was an offense for which mercy and pity were not allowed and for which monetary compensation was strictly forbidden. The sentence is set by God's torah and a judge cannot have discretion in this matter. Murder is something utterly on its own, nothing can be compared to it.
10) "What Do Murderers Deserve?" by David Gelernter (unabomber victim & Yale U. Computer Professor), Commentary Magazine, April 1998
Reprint, Utne Reader, March/April 1999, http://www.utne.com/1999-03-01/WhatdoMurderersDeserve.aspx
NOTE Gelernter ERROR: Karla Faye Tucker did not, voluntarily, end her appeals
11) "Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice", Prof. J. Budziszewski, First Things, August / September 2004 found at
12) "Defending Capital Punishment" by William Gairdner
13) "Why I Support Capital Punishment", by Andrew Tallman, sections 1-6 secular review, sections 7-11 biblical review,
14) "THE ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT: A DEFENSE", Ernest van den Haag, Harvard Law Review, 1986
15) "The Death Penalty", by Solange Strong Hertz at http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/archive-death%20penalty.htm
16) "A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World" by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).
17) "God’s Justice and Ours" by US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002
18) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003
19) Chapter V:The Sanctity of Life, "Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics" By John Murray, 1991 (first published 1957) by Wm. B. Eerdmans http://tiny.cc/4SFBY
20) "MOST CATHOLICS OPPOSE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT?", KARL KEATING'S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers, March 2, 2004
21) "THOUGHTS ON THE BISHOPS' MEETING: NOWADAYS, VOTERS IGNORE BISHOPS", KARL KEATING'S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers, 11/22/05
22) Forgotten Truths: "Is The Church Against Abortion and The Death Penalty" Luiz Sergio Solimeo, Crusade Magazine, p14-16, May/June 2007
23) "Just Violence: An Aristotelian Justification of Capital Punishment"
Personal Note: I support the death penalty because it is a just and deserved sanction - the same foundation as for all legal sanctions. Secondarily, the death penalty is a greater protector of innocent lives. The moral difference between those who oppose or support capital punishment is that one finds it morally wrong, the other morally correct, respectively. Do we execute because we value life? Societies imprison criminals because we value freedom so much. A sanction is only a sanction when we take away that which is valued.
Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims
1) "An unpublished interview with Avery Dulles", All Things Catholic by John L. Allen, Jr., NCRcafe.org, Posted on Dec 19, 2008, at
2) "Capital Punishment: New Testament Teaching", Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., 1998
3) "Amerio on capital punishment ", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007 ,
about Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
about Romano Amerio
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