The Catholic Church's Position on the Death Penalty

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The Catholic Church's Position on the Death Penalty

Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?

"At the heart of Catholic teaching on the death penalty is the belief that 'Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end...' (Catechism, No. 2258).

Regarding the death penalty, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

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 with 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 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" (#2267).


Catholic teaching says that the situations in which the death penalty can be used are "rare, if not practically non-existent." Wouldn't cases of heinous crimes, such as 9/11, be examples of the "rare" cases?

The test of whether the death penalty can be used is whether society has alternative ways to protect itself, not how terrible the crime was. Life in prison without parole provides a non-lethal alternative to the death penalty. We can't know whether God has a purpose for a person's life, even one who has committed a terrible crime and must spend his or her life behind bars.

Does life in prison without parole really work or are those convicted sometimes released?

Life in prison without parole means that the convicted person is not eligible for parole and cannot be released.

I understand that in the past innocent people were sentenced to death, but now that DNA is available, isn't this avoidable?

DNA evidence only exists in about 5-10% of criminal cases (10-15% of death penalty cases). Where it is available, it is still subject to contamination and human error. The risk of an erroneous conviction is still significant."

-The above section is from  "Questions and Answers" on the USCCB website about the Death Penalty/Capital Punishment. 


Guidelines for Preaching or Teaching Regarding the Death Penalty (PDF) - Prepared by Fr. Robert Schneider

Catholic Teaching and the Death Penalty Backgrounder (PDF).

Catholic Speakers: 

Dale and Dr. Susan Ward Recinella

Dale Recinella has gathered thousands of stories - both joyful and painful - along his 20-year journey as a spiritual counselor and Catholic lay chaplain in Florida's prisons. On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Florida, he ministers cell-to-cell to more than 400 men on Florida's death row and the approximately 2,000 men in Florida's long-term solitary confinement. He and his wife, Dr. Susan Ward Recinella, have ministered as a team during executions. He serves as spiritual advisor to the condemned and Dr. Recinella serves as a lay minister to the families and loved ones of the condemned. 

Dale and Susan are inspirational speakers and members of the Catholic Mobilizing Network Speakers Bureau team, traveling internationally and throughout the United States, telling their personal story and sharing the powerful and tragic stories of those they meet in their daily lives. Read more

Listen to Dr. Susan Recinella's talk "Ministry to the Family of the Condemned During an Execution", below. For copies of the talk, please contact Sabrina Burton Schultz, Director of Life Ministry, at or 727-344-1611 ext. 5325.

Scripture Suggestions:

Genesis 2: 7m, 21 -13

Exodus 21: 23 - 25

Romans: 12:17


"... I renew the appeal... to end the death penalty which is both cruel and unnecessary." - St. John Paul II, St. Louis, Missouri, Jan. 27, 1999

"I draw attention of society's leaders to the need to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty" - Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Benin, Nov. 19, 2011

"Opposition to the death penalty is part of the Church's defense of the dignity of human life." - Pope Francis, letter to a conference in Madrid, 2013

"Ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death and toward building a culture of life" - United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, from the document "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death, 2005

"...human beings can experience conversion; they must never despair of being able to change their lives. I wish this to be a message of hope and confidence for all, even for those who have committed brutal crimes, for God does not wish the death of the sinner, but that he converts and lives" (cf. Ezekiel 18:23) - Pope Francis, 2014 World Day of Peace message

"I have a dogmatic certainity: God is in every person's life. God is in everyone's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else -- God is in this person's life. You can, you must try to seek God in every  human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeks, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God." - Pope Francis, "Interview with Pope Francis", 8/19/13

"We are all worth more than the worst thing we've ever done in our life. That's why the death penalty is so morally bankrupt." - Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, advocate for ending the death penalty in the United States


Suggested Prayers of the Faithful for an End to the Use of the Death Penalty (PDF)

Prayer for an End to the Use of the Death Penalty

Pro-Life Rosary


USCCB Website on the Death Penalty / Capital Punishment

Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops' Death Penalty Website

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Catholic Mobilizing Network

Death Penalty Information Center

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