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.

— Catechism of the Catholic Church

Before the clock strikes midnight tonight, I want to acknowledge that today (October 10) is the World Day Against the Death Penalty and we at Where Peter Is stand together with all Catholics and people of good will who work towards its abolition. To see international data on the legality and use of the death penalty, click here.

During a long car ride last week I had the opportunity to listen to Gloria Purvis discuss the death penalty with longtime anti-death penalty advocate Sr. Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking fame) on her podcast. It was a very powerful conversation, especially as Sr. Helen discussed her encounters with racial injustice and getting to know prisoners on death row and the families of their victims. Gloria Purvis provided some interesting insight, especially when describing her frustration when attempting to discuss the Church’s position with a Catholic priest who obstinately rejected the teaching. It reminded me a great deal of the type of rigidity and stubbornness I often encounter. Click here to listen to the podcast and click here to read Gloria Purvis’s write-up of their discussion.

Where Peter Is articles about the death penalty:

Willing the Good: A survivor’s call for restorative justice BY MELINDA RIBNEK · PUBLISHED 

The moving personal testimony of a victim of a violent crime who reminds us that no one, not even people who have done great evil, lost their human dignity. (Trigger warning)

Is Catholic teaching against the death penalty optional?
BY MIKE LEWIS · PUBLISHED JANUARY 25, 2021

Responding to a common misinterpretation of a letter by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, which claims that Catholics may reject the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.

Being pro-life requires the faith to see “both/and”
BY STEVEN P. MILLIES · PUBLISHED 

Responding to an op-ed in the National Review ridiculing the notion of the seamless garment, Steve Millies argues that, “That Cardinal Bernardin continues to be so triggering for some people is perhaps the most articulate testimony to Bernardin’s importance and to the durable significance of his ministry.”

Breakfast of Scandals: Chaput adds to Barr fiasco
BY ADAM RASMUSSEN · PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 21, 2020

Adam Rasmussen explains that the decision by the organizers of the 2020 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast choosing to give an award to US Attorney General William Barr “has created what Catholic moral theology calls ‘scandal.’”

Simply Inadmissible
BY MIKE LEWIS · PUBLISHED MAY 20, 2020

Putting to rest the false, pro-death penalty talking point that the term “inadmissible” is new and/or novel in magisterial and theological language.

The Death Penalty, Doctrine or Personal Opinion?
BY PAUL FAHEY · PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 16, 2019

Putting to rest the false, pro-death penalty argument that the new teaching is simply the prudential opinion of the pope and therefore nothing has actually changed, so Catholics are free to respectfully disagree.

Cardinal Burke: “This is an opinion of Pope Francis as a man”
BY MIKE LEWIS · PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 3, 2019

The Cardinal is caught on tape dissenting from, dismissing, and ridiculing magisterial teaching.

Dr. Peters’ deer & hunter: death penalty & the inversion of roles
BY PEDRO GABRIEL · PUBLISHED JUNE 21, 2019

Pedro Gabriel dissects the erroneous position of dissident canon law professor Ed Peters (and like-minded papal critics) on the death penalty.

Death penalty – The Gen 9:6 objection
BY PEDRO GABRIEL · PUBLISHED JUNE 19, 2019

Why arguments that use a popular bible verse to defend the moral liceity of the death penalty are flawed.

Human life and dignity: our maturing teaching
BY MIKE LEWIS · PUBLISHED MARCH 5, 2019

What in Catholic doctrine has developed over the last century, leading to the Church’s declaration that the death penalty is inadmissible? Our understanding of human dignity.

Death penalty – A Catholic nation’s experience
BY PEDRO GABRIEL · PUBLISHED AUGUST 23, 2018

Long before the Church’s teaching on the death penalty developed, the nation of Portugal effectively prohibited the practice. That has long been a point of pride for this nation with an overwhelmingly Catholic history. Pedro Gabriel describes the view of the death penalty in his home country.

Death Penalty – continuity or hardness of heart?
BY PEDRO GABRIEL · PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 24, 2018

Understanding the Church’s teaching on the death penalty — in light of the Gospel.

The death penalty and the mystery of mercy
BY MIKE LEWIS · PUBLISHED AUGUST 10, 2018

A true story from my own family history. “Regarding the death penalty, I owe my existence to the last-minute commutation of a death sentence and the eventual pardon of my great-grandfather, who murdered a child in 1904.”

Francis changes the Catechism: Death penalty now “inadmissible”
BY ADAM RASMUSSEN · PUBLISHED AUGUST 3, 2018

Theologian Adam Rasmussen breaks down the revised teaching.


Image: Adobe Stock


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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Catholics work for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide
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