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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.

Legitimate defense.
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", (Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: Romano, 13 October 2017, 5.) and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. [Pope Francis, Oct. 11, 2017]

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 John's answer by quoting Pope St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae:

"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."

Pope St. 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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