The Church Continues Its Opposition to the Death Penalty

As early as 1974, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted with an overwhelming majority to communicate its opposition to the death penalty.

More recently, in 2015, Pope Francis addressed a joint session of U.S. Congress, saying that his conviction to defend human life at every stage has led him “to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty” and that “a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

Several years later, in 2018, Francis ordered a change to section 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Previously, section 2267 had noted that 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.” Even before Pope Francis’s change, the Catechism permitted capital punishment in very limited circumstances, especially considering the resources of modern states to contain dangerous criminals.

Quoting Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the pre-2018 wording of the Catechism explained that “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities that the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitively 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 non-existent.’”

Read more on the Church’s consistent statements on the death penalty here.