Can Catholics Support the Death Penalty?

by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  May 10, 2018   

Dr. Ed Feser weighs in

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Does the Catholic Church teach the death penalty is wrong? According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) a person would think that is, indeed, the teaching.

The USCCB maintains the Church has taught conclusively on the matter while using much of its own opinions to support its premise: "The Church's Anti-Death Penalty Position."

Throughout history, however, popes have maintained that it is a just part of a functioning society.

In 1955, Pope Pius XII instructed Catholic lawyers that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age regardless of culture because "the coercive power of legitimate human authority" is based on "sources of revelation and traditional doctrine" and that no one can "say that the aforementioned sources contain only thoughts which correspond to the historic circumstances and to the culture of the time."

While Pope John Paul II and more recently Pope Francis have made comments calling for the abolition of the death penalty, they are not binding on Catholic faithful and reflect their personal opinions.

In fact, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger said in 2004:

If a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. ... There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty.

More recently in October 2017, Pope Francis spoke out against capital punishment, saying it is "contrary to the Gospel." Doctor Edward Feser, a Catholic philosopher and author, counters that the Holy Father's words must be clarified, arguing "the legitimacy of capital punishment is irreformable Catholic teaching."

Watch this week's episode of Mic'd Up where Michael Voris and Dr. Feser discuss capital punishment.

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