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Joe McLachlan wrote:

Dear AskACatholic,

My Name is Joe McLachlan and I am a Year 12 student at St. Joseph's Nudgee College.

As part of my subject Study of Religion, I am working on an assignment that requires me to investigate religious perspectives on ethical issues. I am interested in learning more about your faith's perspective on the topic of capital punishment.

  • As part of this task, it is important for me to conduct primary research, and therefore, I am wondering if it would be possible for you to answer a few questions regarding the issue?

I have attached herewith the questions that I would like to ask.

  • If you feel as if there is an alternative person I can contact, could you please reply to this e-mail?

I look forward to your responses.

My questions:

  • Is capital punishment considered acceptable according to sacred scripture?
  • What influence do Popes, past and present, have on capital punishment (i.e. encyclicals/reformations) ?
  • Does capital punishment contradict certain teachings of Jesus/the Bible?
  • Does Catholicism prefer that 'forgiveness' be given in preference to the death penalty?

Yours sincerely,


  { Could you reply to questions on the Church's view of the ethical aspect of capital punishment? }

Mike replied:

Dear Joe,

Your question tends to fall into a category of Questions we don't answer, (doing other people's assignments) but since you seem new to our faith, let me see if I can help and give you some references.

This is a common question; it's even in our searchable knowledge base:

There are a lot of quick answers there, so give it a try. I searched the knowledge base for you and found these web postings that may help:

Google AskACatholic Search results for: capital punishment

Make sure you read this one:

Under Legitimate defense, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also says this:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity

are very rare, if not practically nonexistent. 

(Pope St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, No. 56.)

If you are interested in the history of Capital Punishment going back to Jesus' time, you may find this article from the New Advent web site helpful:

You said:

  • Is capital punishment considered acceptable according to sacred scripture?

No, Jesus' death on the Cross was a capital crime and thus capital punishment.

Popes, past and present, have had influence on capital punishment but I am not familiar with any exact details; you will have to research this yourself.

Summarizing the Catechism in my words:

Governments do have a prudential Christian judgment in determining a sufficient means to defend and protect the safety of their people from aggressors while, if possible, redeeming the offender.

I hope this helps,

As with any primary research you report on, make sure you appropriately source us if you use any of our answers. We do not wish to encourage plagiarism.


John replied:

Joe —

I must correct my colleague Mike with respect to what the Scriptures teach.

In fact Scripture makes it absolutely clear that Capital Punishment is acceptable and indeed commands it . . . starting back in Genesis 9 in the covenant with Noah . . . all the way to Romans Chapter 13 where Paul writes that Governments have been the authority of the sword, meaning the power to put to death.

So the Church is not against the Death Penalty as a matter of dogma or doctrine . . . rather She is presumptively against the Death Penalty as a matter of pastoral practice, as Mike has explained.

So all of that part of Mike's answer is correct. Where he is incorrect, is in saying that Scripture doesn't allow for it or accept. Quite the opposite; At points in Scripture God commands it!


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