Pope Francis: “The Death Penalty Is Inadmissible, No Matter How Serious the Crime”

Pope Francis: “The Death Penalty Is Inadmissible, No Matter How Serious the Crime” March 20, 2015

From Vatican City this morning, a report of Pope Francis’ meeting with delegates from the International Commission against the Death Penalty.  The Holy Father presented a letter to Federico Mayor, president of the Commission, to greet and offer his personal thanks to all the members of the aforementioned International Commission, the group of countries that lend their support, and all those who collaborate in its work.

The Vatican Information Service has released the following excerpts from the Pope’s letter:

“I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some reflections on what the Church contributes to the humanistic efforts of the Commission. The Church’s Magisterium, based on the Sacred Scripture and the thousand-year experience of the People of God, defends life from conception to natural end, and supports full human dignity inasmuch as it represents the image of God. Human life is sacred as, from its beginning, from the first instant of conception, it is the fruit of God’s creating action”.

“States kill when they apply the death penalty, when they send their people to war or when they carry out extrajudicial or summary executions. They can also kill by omission, when they fail to guarantee to their people access to the bare essentials for life. … On some occasions it is necessary to repel an ongoing assault proportionately to avoid damage caused by the aggressor, and the need to neutralize him could lead to his elimination; this is a case of legitimate defense. However, the presuppositions of personal legitimate defense do not apply at the social level, without risk of misinterpretation. When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of aggression, but rather for an act committed in the past. It is also applied to persons whose current ability to cause harm is not current, as it has been neutralized – they are already deprived of their liberty”.

“Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed. It is an offence against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person, which contradicts God’s plan for man and society, and his merciful justice, and impedes the penalty from fulfilling any just objective. It does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance”.

“For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice. … Justice can never be wrought by killing a human being. … With the application of the death penalty, the convict is denied the possibility of to repent or make amends for the harm caused; the possibility of confession, by which a man expresses his inner conversion, and contrition, the gateway to atonement and expiation, to reach an encounter with God’s merciful and healing justice. It is furthermore frequently used by totalitarian regimes and groups of fanatics for the extermination of political dissidents, minorities, and any subject labelled as ‘dangerous’ or who may be perceived as a threat to its power or to the achievement of its ends”.

“The death penalty is contrary to the sentiment of humanitas and to divine mercy, which must be the model for human justice. … There is discussion in some quarters about the method of killing, as if it were possible to find ways of ‘getting it right’. … But there is no humane way of killing another person”.

“On the other hand, life imprisonment entails for the prisoner the impossibility of planning a future of freedom, and may therefore be considered as a sort of covert death penalty, as they deprive detainees not only of their freedom, but also of hope. However, although the penal system can stake a claim to the time of convicted persons, it can never claim their hope”.

“Dear friends, I encourage you to continue with your work, as the world needs witnesses of God’s mercy and tenderness, and may the Lord Jesus grant the gift of wisdom, so that the action taken against this cruel punishment may be successful and fruitful”.

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  • dudleysharp

    The Pope is entitled to his personal opinion, which, just so happens, to be factually, in error and in conflict with 2000 years of Catholic teaching.

    All Catholics May Support Death Penalty
    Dudley Sharp

    1) Any good Catholic may disagree with the Church’s newest teachings (EV and CCC) on the death penalty (1) and remain a Catholic in good standing (1) and can find that (a) the primary and eternal purpose of sanction is justice and/or redress, as confirmed in this latest CCC, and that (b) justice should not be and cannot be subjugated by a secondary purpose of sanction, even the important concern of “defense of society” and that (c) the death penalty offers a greater degree of protection for society and individuals than lesser sanctions (2) , that being the protection of the potential innocents harmed, now spared, and potential repeat unjust aggressors, also, now spared, by preventing them from harming even more innocents and , thereby, providing greater protection for their salvation, the greatest of all restoration (3&4), as well as greater degrees of protection through enhanced due process, enhanced incapacitation and enhanced deterrence, over a life sentence (2).

    2) This from Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, appointed by Saint Pope John Paul II:

    “The most reasonable conclusion to draw from this discussion is that, once again, the Catechism is simply wrong from an historical point of view. Traditional Catholic teaching did not contain the restriction enunciated by Pope John Paul II” (5)

    “The realm of human affairs is a messy one, full of at least apparent inconsistency and incoherence, and the recent teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment—vitiated, as I intend to show, by errors of historical fact and interpretation—is no exception.” (5)

    much more in balance of the article

    3) Replacing Church teachings with anti death penalty rhetoric:

    Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of Miami stated, “… the use of the death penalty devalues human life and diminishes respect for human dignity. We bishops continue to say, we cannot teach killing is wrong by killing.”

    Rebuttal: For about 2000 years the Church has taught that the death penalty is based upon the value of innocent life and an abiding respect for the dignity of man (6), as still made clear in the current Catechism.

    What the Archbishop is, now, saying is that for 2000 years the Church supported the death penalty, which devalued human life and that which diminished respect for human dignity, a claim which no Catholic can or should accept.

    The Archbishop is just repeating standard anti death penalty nonsense which has no respect for Catholic teachings and tradition.


    Rebuttal to Four Catholic Publications Call For End to Capital Punishment (7)

    4) From Canon lawyer Michael Dunningan:

    “Catholic teaching on capital punishment is in a state of dangerous ambiguity. The discussion of the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is so difficult to interpret that conscientious members of the faithful scarcely know what their Church obliges them to believe.” (8)

    much more in article

    5) from 2267: “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.”

    Rebuttal: It is not the “possibility” or the “means” of preventing crime, but the reality, which matters.

    The most obvious, relevant example is that the Church not only had the “possibility” and the “means” to prevent child sex abuse by priests, but the moral obligation to do so, yet, instead, abandoned the innocent and protected the guilty, even allowing them to repeat their crimes, over about a 50 year period, that we know of.

    Such is why reality must rule over both “possibility” and “means”. Man errs and sins and any err by the Church should be on the side which protects more innocent lives as opposed to what the CCC has now, which is sacrificing more innocent lives, again.

    Countless innocents are murdered and harmed, every day, by known repeat offender/unjust aggressors, because of the reality of widespread human error and harm committed in the world’s criminal justice systems, just as with the Church “mismanagement” of the priest sex horrors, where both “possibilities” and “means” had zero relevance to the reality of not protecting the innocent.

    Such reality is the factual opposite of: “very rare, if not practically nonexistent . . . “.

    It is astonishing that neither Evangelium Vitae nor the CCC show any consciousness of this, when EV and the 1997 CCC amendment were written as the firestorm of the priest sex scandal raged.

    Much more in full review (9).


    Some additional

    — The Traditional (CATHOLIC) Case for Capital Punishment, By Fr. C. John McCloskey, The Catholic Thing, MARCH 16 2015

    — Four Catholic Journals Indulge in (anti death penalty) Doctrinal Solipsism, Stephen Long, THOMISTICA, March 5, 2015,

    — Okay, what about Catholics and the death penalty?, In the Light of the Law A Canon Lawyer’s Blog, Edward Peters, JD, JCD, Ref. Sig. Ap. March 9, 2015,

    In 2010, Peters was named a Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, becoming the first layman so appointed since the reconstitution of Signatura over 100 years ago. In 2012, Peters was named by His Holiness an expert consultant to the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.

    — Intellectual dishonesty and the “Seamless Garment” argument, JIMMY AKIN, National Catholic Register, 01/25/2015



    1) From Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

    “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, 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. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    from paragraph 3, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles”, part of memorandum sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick, made public July 2004.

    Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when he made that statement. He was appointed to that position by Pope (Now Saint) John Paul II.

    The “congregation’s sole objective is to ‘spread sound Catholic doctrine and defend those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines”. The Prefect is the senior voice within that congregation.

    2) The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues

    3) The Death Penalty: Mercy, Expiation, Redemption & Salvation

    4) Catechism & State Protection

    5) Note that Flannery was, also, appointed by SPJPII

    “Capital Punishment and the Law”, Ave Maria Law Review, 2007 (30 pp), by Kevin L. Flannery S.J., Consultor of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (since 2002) and Ordinary Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University(Rome); and Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture (University of Notre Dame.

    6) See specific Catholic references

    New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming

    7) Rebuttal to Four Catholic Publications Call For End to Capital Punishment

    8) “The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)”, by Canon Lawyer R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003
    found here: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7453

    9) Catechism Death Penalty Problems: Section 2267

  • Will

    I like Pope Francis and this is another reason why.

  • “Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.”
    (Pope Francis)

    Is this the Pope’s opinion which we can consider prudentially, or a shift in Church doctrine?

    The Catechism:
    “Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.” [2266]

    Theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles:
    “If the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millennia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture.”

    • Adrian Murphy

      “The marks of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the pope and his followers. For Paul, in describing Antichrist to the Thessalonians, calls him an enemy of Christ, ‘Who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God’ (2 Thess. 2:4). He is not speaking about heathen kings, but someone ruling in the Church. He calls him the enemy of Christ, because he will invent doctrine conflicting with the Gospel and will claim for himself divine authority…. The pope claims for himself divine authority in a threefold manner: [first] He takes for himself the right to change Christ’s doctrine … and wants his own doctrine and his own services to be observed as divine…. [third] He does not want to be judged by the Church or by anyone and puts his own authority ahead of the decision of councils and the entire Church. To be unwilling to be judged by the Church or by anyone else is to make oneself God.” (TREATISE ON THE POWER AND PRIMACY OF THE POPE, 39-40) http://bookofconcord.org/treatise.php

      • Laureen

        Why are you spamming this site with this worthless blabber of yours? Take this screed of yours somewhere else where it’d be appropriate! It isn’t here, as it has nothing to do with the subject at hand here.

  • I thank the Holy Father for his position. I still disagree. Society is best served, in my opinion, with capital punishment for the most horrendous crimes. I hate to use the proverbial Nazis, but don’t tell me Hitler and his henchmen didn’t deserve and should have received the death penalty.

  • Adrian Murphy

    “When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of aggression, but rather for an act committed in the past…. It does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance.” (Pope Francis)
    “According to the Humanitarian theory, to punish a man because he deserves it, and as much as he deserves, is mere revenge, and, therefore, barbarous and immoral…. The Humanitarian theory removes from Punishment the concept of Desert. But the concept of Desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice.” (C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”) http://www.angelfire.com/pro/lewiscs/humanitarian.html