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Mary Metzler wrote:

Hi, guys —

Our parish RCIA class teaches that the death penalty and abortion are both murder. A lady in the class believes that a criminal, found guilty after a trial and appeal can be morally executed.

She understands that the Catholic Church prohibits the death penalty and this is a problem for her. Abortion, however, is killing innocent life and is never permitted.

  • Can you explain the morality of the death penalty?
  • Is it ever justified to protect the innocent?
  • Can you reply with information that addresses these questions?

Thank you,


  { Can you explain the morality of the death penalty and is it ever justified to protect the innocent? }

John replied:

Hi, Mary —

Thanks for the question.

There has been some distortion in the teaching taking place in your parish RCIA .

For practical purposes, one can say the Church disapproves of capital punishment, but the Church does not teach the death penalty is murder, in fact, Scripture gives government the right to execute criminals, as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, the purpose of the death penalty is to prevent the criminal from killing again.

In most modern societies, like the United States, the common good and protection of society can be met in other ways, without execution. Being that we were all condemned to hell if it were not for Jesus, we have a higher calling to show mercy over justice so, in our present situation,
we have a moral obligation to do the same.

Therefore, we should seek other means to protect society.

I hope this helps.

John DiMascio

Mike replied:

Hi, Mary —

I just wanted to add to what John has said by quoting the Catechism:

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. "If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

    "Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ...
    are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

    John Paul II, Evangelium vitae

You also may want to look at the question Heather asked us along with our answer.

Mike Humphrey

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