This comes up, frequently. I hope this helps to clarify.
The Catholic Church has made it very clear that the death penalty and abortion are very different topics, morally and theologically.
Catholics in good standing can support the death penalty and even an increase in executions, if their own prudential judgement calls for it.
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).
Abortion is always considered an intrinsic evil.
1) Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger):
"stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows": "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." (1)
2) Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ
"Pope John Paul II spoke for the whole Catholic tradition when he proclaimed, in Evangelium Vitae, that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral (EV 57)."
"But he wisely included in that statement the word innocent. He has never said that every criminal has a right to live nor has he denied that the State has the right in some cases to execute the guilty. "
"No passage in the New Testament disapproves of the death penalty." (2)
"Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is … a grave and clear obligation to oppose them … [I]t is therefore never licit to … "take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it."
"In other words: it is always a grave or mortal sin for a politician to support abortion."
"Now, some will want to say that these bishops-and I- are crossing the line from Religion into to politics. But it was the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) who started this. The bishops, and I, are not crossing into politics; she, and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians, regularly cross over into teaching theology and doctrine. And it's our job to try clean up their mess."
"Some would say, well Father, what about those people who support the war in Iraq, or the death penalty, or oppose undocumented aliens? Aren’t those just as important, and aren’t Catholic politicians who support those “bad Catholics” too? "
"Simple answer: no. Not one of those issues, or any other similar issues, except for the attack on traditional marriage is a matter of absolute intrinsic evil in itself. Not all wars are unjust — and good Catholics can disagree on facts and judgments. Same thing with the other issues: facts are debatable, as are solutions to problems."
(1) "More Concerned with 'Comfort' than Christ?", Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick: Catholic Online, 7/11/2004 http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php
NOTE: Ratzinger (Now retired Pope Benedict) was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and delivered this with guidance to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
(2) "The Death Penalty: A Right to Life Issue?" at
(3) "What Ardent Practicing Catholics Do: Correcting Pelosi", National Review Online, 9/1/2008 6:00AM
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