Catholics and the Death Penalty

Death Penalty Inadmissable

Pope Francis has approved an update to the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty.

Catholic teaching now states the death penalty is “inadmissible” in all circumstances because it is an attack on the dignity of human life. The Church will now work with determination for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

Previous Teaching

Previously, the Church taught the state could use the death penalty if it were the only possible way to defend human lives. However, this teaching has evolved over the past few decades. This is due in part to a growing understanding of the dignity of life and the growing effectiveness of detention systems.

This change builds upon the work of previous popes. Pope John Paul II asked that the teaching evolve to reflect the Church’s respect for all human life. John Paul II once said, “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.” Pope Benedict XVI also encouraged society’s leaders to make every effort “to eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

The New Teaching

The new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The death penalty

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. 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.

Consequently, 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”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

[1] FRANCIS, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017, 5.

As we move forward with this new teaching to guide us, let us continue to pray for and work for a growing respect of life from conception to natural death.


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