Catholic Church’s View Point on Death Penalty

Catholic Church’s View Point on Death Penalty


  1. Introduction
  1. What is death penalty and how many countries in the world are practicing it.
  2. How did the death penalty come to be established and in the US and what is the stand of the Roman Catholic Church in the matter
  1. Discussion
  1. Death penalty history in the United States of America.
  2. The Roman Catholic Church teachings on human life.
  3. Catholic Church biblical interpretations on human life and why it should not be taken away.
  4. Efforts of the roman catholic church in trying to abolish death penalty
  5. The Gospel of Matthew’s Jesus teachings on the value of human life and the path to righteousness.
  6. The American judicial system’s interpretation on the need of death penalty
  7. Steps being taken by the Roman Catholic Church and other human rights groups in trying to end death penalty.
  1. Conclusion
  1. Thesis restatement on death penalty and efforts of the Roman Catholic Church in try to have t abolished.
  2. The perception of the Roman Catholic Church on the importance of human life

The History of Catholic Church’s View Point on Death Penalty


The lawful infliction of death of an individual is what is referred to as death penalty. Majority of the countries in the world have abolished the practice, however, there is no cord that has been officially formed by world countries against its use (Cole 25). China, which is the most populous country in the world, leads as it executes thousands of inmates yearly. United States of America still practices it even when it is perceived the most democratic republic on earth. As of today, 84 countries in the world retain capital punishment (The Grinnell Literary Societies 78). However, the number of nations using death penalty is decreasing. With the recent pressure from different human rights watch groups and religious groups more so from the Roman Catholic Church, the world remains optimistic that the practice will be done away with once and for all in all nations (42).


This paper will tend to look at capital punishment in the US with a look down memory lane on how it came to be established and what has been the stand of the Roman Catholic Church in the matter. The research done also looks at reasons why death sentences are still being passed in the country despite numerous calls by human rights group to abolish this inhumane act. It will also portray why this practice should be abolished with reasons supporting its abolishment. The establishment of death penalty was first executed back in the eighteenth century B.C (Cole & Christopher 76). It was introduced by the then king of Babylon, which categorized the penalty for 25 crimes. Death sentences back then were executed by means such as crucifixion, burning, beating to death, beheading and impalement. However, these methods were overpowered by the hanging method which came to be popular in the beginning of the 20th century. Britain was the country that mostly influenced the United States to establish the death penalty. This is because it held the practice in very high regard in its leadership hence when it established a colony in the Americas, the practice continued.

Captain George Kendall became the first victim of death penalty in the US when he was executed for being a Spaniard spy. This took place in Virginia in the year 1608. The debate involving this practice does not necessary involves the terminology of human rights. The support and the continued practice of death sentencing in the US is intersected and challenged by international law (Hickey 19). The laws which have come to favor the abolishment of death penalty may have been viewed differently in the US as different states have their own view on the death penalty laws. However, America may be coming to a positive conclusion by using different legal scrutiny.

One may ask why the death penalty is still practiced in the US. The answer lies in the devolution of powers in this country as the federal government has little to no control over enforcing laws at a state level. How the highest court in this land, The Supreme Court , interprets the constitution also plays a vital role as to why death sentence is still being practiced. When it comes to death penalty, the US is not in unison as the practice varies from state to state and different regions (Connors 40). In 1846, capital punishment was revoked in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. Michigan became the first state to abolish and other states such as New York, Illinois, New Mexico ended it too. States such as Kansas and New Hampshire have these laws, but they rarely execute them. The difference in state laws has seen states like California sentence inmates to death, but they end up serving on “death row”.

Majority of southern states are the only ones that have recorded cases of death sentences with executions being carried out. However, they are very rare as they take place after many years of legal contestation averaging a period of 14 years (Cole 48). Death sentences have been permitted only for murder related crimes and this is seen as a way to justify the practice. Despite the crimes committed by individuals, capital punishment should be an exception as opposed to being a rule. US states have been at the forefront of limiting cases of death rows and has been looking for less painful methods of execution.

In the Catholic Church Opinion capital punishment is one of the most inhumane acts performed by the state (Megivern 31). The Catholic Church feels that by sentencing an individual to death is just looking for an easy way out: some form of escape. The Roman Catholic Church always maintained that right to human life is unalienable hence no one should take for whatever reason. This has not only been on the issue of death sentences as it has also expressed the same stand on the issue of abortion, euthanasia  and also on the importance of preserving human life during times of war (Avery Cardinal 72). The Catholic Church also continues to teach that guilty persons should do their time in prison other than being killed like animals. The Roman Catholic Church feels that continuing to uphold the issue of death penalty is outdated, ineffective, expensive and definitely unfair. Looking from a philosophical point of view, the main aim of our justice system is to prevent crime, rehabilitate inmates and lock away hardcore criminals. Life in prison will satisfy all these reasons as compared to the death penalty. Sentencing an individual to quick death will only help him as opposed to letting him serve his guilt in prison (Connors 27). Life imprisonment calls for rehabilitation, whereas death is instant. By isolating hardcore criminals in solitary, one will serve the public equally well as chances of escape are minimized.

The Roman Catholic Church has at a couple of times in history tried to get capital punishment abolished. however, these leaders have not yet managed to gather the needed number of supporters in order to achieve the same in accordance with the American constitution. For instance, in 1980, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, they managed to publish the negativity of death punishment and tried to get American lawmakers to address the issue (Curran & Leslie 48). They managed to win the majority vote in having the death penalty abolished, but they did not achieve the 2/3 majority required by the entire conference in order to pressure the US government to abolish such a legal provision in the constitution. Some of the greatest leaders to ever lead the Catholic Church had also condemned death penalty. This was citing it as going against God’s wishes with Pope John Paul II being one of them (Bankson 56-7). He even quoted the Bible in the book of Exodus 5: 13 which says; “thou shall not kill”.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, God never said that when one sinned he/she ought to be put to death for whatever sin. There is no righteous killing regardless of the motive behind its practice. Mankind is the most precious of God’s creation since he is made in accordance to God’s image hence no one should have the right to put to death what God molded with his own hands (Curran & Leslie 131). Additionally, the Bible prophesies of doom to those who fail to obey God’s commandment in Matthew 5 as from verse 18 to 20:” For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (France 64).

In the following verses, Jesus continues to caution against anger, which is a relative to the death penalty so highly regarded as the best thing of punishing capital crimes individuals in the United States of America. As from Matthew 5 verse 21 the Bible says the following “21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (France 96-97).

According to Bankston (115), those who argue about reinstatement of death penalty are sacrificing criminal justice as they are not considering actual justice, but basing it on their own agenda. This is true as the criminal justice will have to base its decisions on personal preferences through revenge, racial violence, emotional closure and financial cost. Deterrence overshadows criminal justice as capital punishment is not necessarily based on justice. Murder isn’t balanced. You cannot expect to execute someone just because he might have killed someone which could have occurred out of mistaken identity or because of other unintended reasons. Human beings are naturally remorseful at some point in their lives and by sentencing them to life imprisonment; they are likely to regret decisions made and reform in the process (Connors 36).

Among the many countries that have abolished the death penalty is Germany. Their reason: After the criminalities of Nazism, the very notion of the state placing persons to death is too much to face. Consider the reasonable outcry that would follow if Germany restored the death penalty and Jewish convicts were probably ones to get the death penalty for the same offense as a German convict. Although Jews constituted 15% of the German population, they were the majority of those executed. Discrimination came in play here as Jews were likely to be executed if there wasn’t one of them among the jury. There would be general allegation of racial preference. We can trace this back to Americas justice system as seen with the minority inhabitants. To prove this, the Maryland governor commissioned a study that showed that the likelihood of a white murderer, whose victim was also white, was more likely to proceed to penalty trial and sentenced to death (The Grinnell Literally Societies 86). However, things were totally different if it was a black victim who was being executed since the practice was biased.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, the other reason as to why death penalty should be done away with is the actual fact of executing innocent people as it has been seen in various cases in the United States (Avery Cardinal 34). This is because most murder case files are closed immediately a person is executed. This is not fair as one would not have been given a chance to appeal the case as it is in his right. This is only possible when the convict is allowed to serve life sentence instead of capital punishment.

The Catholic Church feels that the justice structure, as anything, must be superior to existing revenge. The death penalty changes the system from a device of controlled power aimed at eradicating violence, to being violent itself. Rather than changing our civilization towards joint cooperation and acceptance, we have established the very “eye for an eye” system we have wanted to end in a long time. The United States of America claims to be one of the most democratic republics in the world while promoting death practice puts the country among some of the most undemocratic ones such as Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan (Connors 55).

The introduction of capital punishment is so rampant hence unlawful as it goes against the Eighth Amendment which discourages cruelty and unusual punishment for all US citizens. Harry Blackmun argues there is a conflict between two necessities in capital condemning. The Eighth Amendment stresses that sentencing preference in capital hearings be structured rendering to fixed objective standards to eradicate arbitrariness and judgment (Cole 68). For example the usual US death row inmate spends serves his sentence in solitary with little room for exercising and is not allowed contact with other human beings. All these added to the fact that he is not sure when his sentencing will actually happen. Most people will tend to link this with torture. Pope John Paul II also failed to comprehend the connection between death penalty and the American declaration of independence which stated that the right to life is “unalienable”.

International courts have come to condemn this prolonged confinement terming it as inhuman and simply cruel. However, there is also a humanitarian condition that sentencing preference be supple enough to permit jury to individualize fairness by taking justifying circumstances into consideration that might provide a lesser sentence than death.

Taxpayers are also affected by death penalties more than they know. This is due to the methods introduced to perform the acts. In the United States, less harmful methods like death by lethal injection, toxic fumes and electrocution have cost the citizens money as it requires loads of money for some of these practices to be carried out. The government will in turn use taxpayer’s money for their maintenance.

The US is however, on the verge of abolishing the practice completely. It is part of a human treaties move to impact the death penalty. The US is dedicated to the underlining principles of human rights and this can act as a starting point for restricting and reforming capital punishment (Hickey 105-6).

Many human rights watch groups and the Catholic Church continue to call for abolishment of death penalty restlessly.  Additionally, the effect of 88 people who were formally on death row walking free raised legal, moral and constitutional questions (The Grinnell Literary Societies 28). Citizens have become more familiar with some of the cons that are associated with death penalty. Any country associated with the act would rather agree to a retrial than risk the guilt carried by executing an innocent life.

While the final question is being answered, there is plenty of room for improvement and limitations on death penalty. Recent Supreme Court verdicts have confirmed honesty to the view of other countries in assessing the evolving morals of decency that will eventually determine the restrictions of acceptable penalty (Cole & Christopher 56). Many perspectives are welcomed within this framework.


In conclusion death penalty challenges the very drive of our criminal justice system. It does not benefit the victim or the country as a whole. Deciding whether or not civilization has a moral right execute murderers and other rowdy criminals needs a value judgment. It should be abolished. As a result, the efforts of The Roman Catholic Church to have the death penalty in the United States abolished cannot be ignored. All this church has ever wanted is preserving human life as it is God’s wishes for the life He created by His own hands to be respected.

Work Citation

Avery Cardinal Dulles. “Catholicism & Capital Punishment.” First Things 112 (April 2001): 30-35.

Bankston, Carl L. Great Events from History. Pasadena, Calif: Salem Press, 2009. Internet resource.

Brugger, E C. Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. Print.

Cole, George F, and Christopher E. Smith. The American System of Criminal Justice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

Connors, Paul G. Capital Punishment. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Print.

Curran, Charles E, and Leslie Griffin. The Catholic Church, Morality, and Politics. New York: Paulist Press, 2001. Print.

France, R T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2007. Print.

Hickey, Thomas J. Taking Sides. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2010. Print.

Megivern, James J. The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey. New York: Paulist Press, 1997. Print.

Melusky, Joseph A, and Keith A. Pesto. Capital Punishment. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood, 2011. Print.

The Grinnell Literary Societies: Documents, Photographs and Paraphernalia from Grinnell College’s Earliest Student Organizations. Grinnell College, 2013. Print.