Death Penalty

Catholic Church Changes Doctrine To Oppose Death Penalty

The church's catechism now calls capital punishment "inadmissible" and says it's "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person."


Evandro Inetti/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The death penalty is "inadmissible" because it attacks human "dignity," the Roman Catholic Church says.

In the past, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has supported the death penalty "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor." But in May, Pope Francis approved a major change to the doctrine that says capital punishment is wrong in all cases. The update was published today, the Associated Press reports.

"The church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide," the catechism's new text reads.

The catechism acknowledges that capital punishment has long been seen as a "means of safeguarding the common good." But there is now "an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes," the doctrine says. "In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption."

According to Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church's teachings on capital punishment have simply evolved. "If, in fact the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes," Ladaria says in a letter explaining the change.

Though the church's teachings have evolved, Francis' views on the subject have not. During a 2015 trip to the United States, where the death penalty is legal, he told Congress that "from the beginning of my ministry," he has advocated for it to be abolished.

Previous popes have had differing opinions. Francis' immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, did not oppose the death penalty in all cases, according to the BBC. But Pope John Paul II, who came before Benedict, generally advocated for imprisonment instead.

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  1. The death penalty is “inadmissible” because it attacks human “dignity,” the Roman Catholic Church says.

    *Not* because there is no Hell?

    1. Is imposing the death penalty a mortal sin or venial sin? If the former, who’s soul goes to hell? If the latter, aren’t we talking about the same ‘repent, absolve, repeat’ cycle as normal?

    2. Vatican denies he said that.

      1. So God isn’t everywhere?

  2. Agree with the conclusion, but not the reasoning. Some people need killin’. I just don’t trust the apparatus of the state with that power.

    1. This is more or less where I come down. I’m fairly agnostic on the morality of the death penalty, with a slight inclination towards “against”, but the possibility of getting it wrong with no-takesy-backsies is just too high so I’d be in favor of getting rid of it entirely.

    2. That is how I interpret “In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.”

  3. How can anyone still take these old men cosplaying in their silly costumes seriously?

    1. How can anyone still take these old men cosplaying in their silly costumes seriously?

      Maybe you haven’t been around a Catholic Church lately but between people not showing up and people showing up and not giving two shits about any given doctrine, the best answer is that, at least in this country, they don’t. In two weeks, we’ll still be talking about which players on which team will or won’t take a knee during the national anthem and nobody will remember what the current Pope said about the death penalty.

      Bigger joke than the Kochs! SAD.

  4. Yeah but what about Jesus?

    Without the death penalty for Jesus the whole Christianity thing does not happen.

    1. “Nice” catch.

    2. Jesus was clear that God’s leverage of your sin does not absolve you of your sin.

      1. Then what’s the point?

    3. You nailed it.

      1. I’m glad I came a’cross this thread.

  5. I suppose if you’re at all a believer in redemption then a person should probably be alive long enough to seek it.

    1. For hundreds of years, redemption was to be achieved in Heaven, not on earth.

      To the best of my limited knowledge, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” (during the reign of Pope Innocent in 1209) has never been officially repudiated.

  6. This isn’t really a change in doctrine. The Church already only allowed for the death penalty in very limited circumstances and post-WWII has long held that the incidences in which the death penalty may be permissible is exceedingly rare.

    1. The Dalai Lama said it better.

    2. This is like writing an article “The Catholic Church Comes Out Against War”. I mean, technically the Church allows for war, but the standards by which a war would be permissible under “Just War Theory” is so stringent and limited that virtually no war in recent memory would have met those qualifications.

      1. All of this is a moot point anyways, since this publication opposes religious liberty to begin with so it really doesn’t matter what any church believes because Reason thinks the State’s “(im)moral authority” trumps all else and therefore they can crush the faithful under their righteous jackboot.

        1. That is not a very catholic statement.

        2. All of this is a moot point anyways, since this publication opposes religious liberty

          I doubt this publication contends that people should not be free to believe as they wish, in particular with respect to religion.

          If you mean that this publication does not subscribe to current right-wing views that vast, snowflake-codding special privilege should be made available to some citizens consequent to superstition-based claims while being denied to other citizens — such as entitlement to refrain from complying with generally applicable laws — that sounds like the libertarian way. Faux libertarians and other conservative goobers may not like it, however.

          Carry on, clingers.

      2. The actual consistent “always and everywhere taught” doctrine (really the only form that de fide moral teachings have taken) has been that the death penalty is the right of authorities to employ as a legitimate form of action in defense of the innocent. Francis’s recent predecessors had opposed the death penalty but had heavily drawn on contingent, empirical considerations (hence not doctrinal) in coming to that conclusion. For instance, new evidence of rampant errors in administration, a cumulative history of gross abuses by rulers, the development of a modern penal system, etc., all drew into question whether, in fact, a government could properly invoke “necessary for the defense of the innocent” in any actual circumstance likely today…

        1. …Perhaps the previous popes were right in this conclusion, in which case it was certainly appropriate for them to lobby against the death penalty, and even right for them to include the stronger (but heretofore careful and clear) language in the catechism. But there is still plenty of room for a Catholic to disagree with that (heavily a posteriori) conclusion without being heretical; contrast legal abortion where there is almost none. And when you read carefully, yes, Francis is not really contradicting (i.e. “changing”) longstanding Church teaching about the death penalty, but rather citing these same empirical claims. But he has moved to (seemingly deliberately) muddy the waters and sow confusion on matters of doctrine to reflect his personal opinions and give them illegitimate moral authority. Altering a document that is supposed to record church teachings (albeit not all de fide) with misleading language is only the latest step…

          1. …What is a bigger danger in today’s world–that Catholics will be too cruel to refugees, or use too many fossil fuels, or execute too many criminals; or that various persons who loathe Catholicism will continue to try to embarrass orthodox Catholics and confuse the faithful by suggesting that conservatives who oppose the Paris Accords or whatever are just as “cafeteria” as Nancy Pelosi? Or that people who might have made zealous Catholics continue to abandon the Church in disgust over this kind of nonsensical confusion bourne out of foolish virtue signals to the Left?

            Yes, it’s amusing to see the Left trumpet the latest thing Francis says whenever Benedict actually said the exact same thing ten years ago (and often Pius IX as well). But orthodox Catholics are finally coming to terms with the fact that this pope really is different. Here he is doing what he does best–causing confusion–and for his favorite reason–virtue signalling to the progs in a P.R. effort when he should be standing up to assaults on moral decency and telling some hard truths to the last people who want to hear them. This is not even the most egregious example. (Communion for remarried was.) He is not a good pope.

            1. Francis is not popular, with regards to doctrinal clarity, with at least half of the faithful (especially in Africa and South America) and about two-thirds of the cardinals. But, he is widely praised for his pastoral style.

              He indeed does muddy the waters and the media likes to manipulate his responses to fit their narrative. What do people expect from a Jesuit?

              Maybe the Jesuits should be suppressed again and all their holdings given to the Dominicans. If only…..

            2. I agree that the Catholic Church tends toward the right — especially the part that facilitated and concealed the systematic, longstanding, widespread sexual abuse of children to protect the organization’s riches and reputation. That part seems solidly Republican and conservative.

  7. Way to miss the point, church. Some people, such as serial killers, have zero human dignity.

    I oppose the death penalty because I don’t trust the state to get it right. It DOES happen that someone gets convicted because they make for a convenient way to close a case. Especially when it comes to capital crimes, which often get the public fired up and demand that the police “do something,” it is very tempting and easy to say they caught the guy. And, on top of that, you have juries who give the benefit of the doubt to the prosecution as a matter of course.

  8. Hey Catholic Church, stop raping children and maybe I’ll take your moral ‘leadership’ seriously.

    1. You want the Church to persecute the pederasts?

      1. The Catholic Church should have been bankrupted and put out of business, as a similarly situated daycare center chain would have been.

        No decent person would associated with the Catholic Church after the revelations of longstanding, systematic, severe, immoral wrongdoing. It’s as bad as being a Penn State football fan, or a Trump-supporting Republican.

        A Catholic Penn State fan who voted for Trump? That’s a person with no redeeming value.

        1. Public schools dwarf the Catholic Church for raping kids.

  9. “In the past, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has supported the death penalty ‘if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.'” I’m not sure what situations pass this test, but the Church is now saying that the lives of innocent people aren’t to be protected from aggressors? So if someone breaks into the Vatican to assasinate the Pope would the Church’s position be that he can’t be taken out?

    1. No. Just because “the Church is now saying” (concede this debatable language) that the particular sort of killing circumstance called the death penalty can no longer be justified using this justification, does not mean that the justification itself is garbage! In other words it is not saying that no killing could be justified as “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” Presumably many still qualify.

  10. Funny how God changes his mind on things so often. Remember when eating meat on Friday, marrying a Protestant and lending money at interest were one-way tickets to hell?

    1. None of those examples given were ever a part of the catechism. Those were all issues related to tradition.

      (1) eating meat on Friday- still required (age permitting), but other than during Lent, dioceses are allowed to decide whether or not “acts of mercy” can be substituted for abstinence from meat during ordinary time.

      (2) marrying a Protestant- still forbidden. The Church, like almost all other faiths, will not recognize interfaith marriages unless the couple affirms that it will raise their offspring Catholic. Even with that assurance, interfaith marriage is discouraged, with the exception of marriage with Eastern Orthodox faiths

      (3) lending money at interest- still a sin, but relates more to “usury” than simply “interest”.

      Also, none of those violations were ever a one-way ticket to hell.

      1. That’s not true. I expressly recall the first two items being in the Baltimore Catechism I was provided during religious instruction in the 1960s.

        As for interest, all interest was once considered “usury.” The Medici became the church’s bankers because they invented creative ways to collect interest without calling it interest.

        1. You’re right on usury being in the catechism. I misspoke. I don’t think the other two are, but you may be right.

          Nonetheless, the Church contends that they haven’t changed their position on this. Usury was just recently condemned again in a recent papal encyclical.

          But, you could make the argument that they have changed these principles. Papal legalize and all that.

          1. I recall usury being defined as “too high” an interest rate.

            You could marry a Protestant (or non-Catholic) in the Church as long as both agreed to raise their children Catholic. However, if you married in a Protestant Church, you got excommunicated. Marriage by a judge was only a mortal sin.

            The prohibition of eating meat on Friday was one of the six Church commandments. Attending Mass on Sunday, contributing financially to the Church, attending Mass on holy days of obligation, like Christmas and Ascension Thursday. ( These varied in different countries). The Church commandments were not considered moral standards, like the Ten Commandments, which applied to everyone.

      2. Actually they were canon law, not merely tradition. Deliberately disregarding them was a “one-way ticket to hell” i.e. a mortal sin because Jesus gave the Church the right to make its own rules to bind the faithful in addition to the inherently moral ones handed down by God; deliberately disobeying the Church on a rule it has specified to be of such importance is a very serious matter–a disobedience of God, since he has entrusted the Church with the leadership of the faithful. Hence, mortal sin, even if for breaking a manmade law.

        1. I assume you attended some Catholic schooling? What religious order? Or are you a monk like Eddie?

          1. I apologize for my errors. I focus more of my reading on Robert Bellarmine, St. Augustine, and such more than the actual catechism and cannon law

        2. Not all canon law is required to be believed with divine faith. Some of it is “gotsta believe,” some of it is “should believe” and some is “would be nice if you believed.”

        3. Except you could just go to confession and be forgiven. And if there was no priest handy, an act of perfect contrition would suffice until there was.

          Catholics, unlike Protestants, didn’t exclude non believers from salvation. It’s why portrayals of Aristotle appeared on Medieval churches.

  11. I suppose that to the extent a 180-degree turnaround can be described as “evolved”, that’s true. From a historical perspective, it was not all that long ago that the Church was the primary instigator of death penalty punishments for all sorts of crimes.

    1. “”the Church was the primary instigator of death penalty punishments for all sorts of crimes.””

      Using all sorts of undignified methods.

    2. Secular justice in those times tended to be much harsher than ecclesiastical courts. To say that the Church was primary had more to do with there being a myriad of little states and lordships..

      1. re: “Secular justice in those times tended to be much harsher than ecclesiastical courts.”

        Citation, please. All of the sources I’ve read put ecclesiastical court sentences as or more severe than the equivalent secular courts.

    3. Good point, that’s true. The church’s position was that it was better for you to die then to lose your immortal soul, and that the flames that were burning you to death also burned any sin away.

  12. “Serial killers need to be treated with more dignity!”

    There are thoughtful objections to the death penalty, that is not one of them.

  13. #notmypope

  14. Choose reason. Every time.

    Especially over sacred ignorance or dogmatic intolerance.

    Most especially if you are older than 12 or so.

    By then, childhood indoctrination fades as an excuse for backwardness, gullibility, bigotry, ignorance, and superstition.

    By ostensible adulthood it is no excuse.

    Choose reason. And science, tolerance, education, inclusivity, and modernity.

    Choose reason. Be an adult.

    Or, at least, try.

  15. What OTHER pieces of Catholic theology does Reason agree with?

    Just checking which cherries get picked.

    1. That Man has Free Will?

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