Death Penalty and Rome

Roman Catholicism today is mostly against the death penalty. For example, the contemporary Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the RCC’s view of capital punishment this way:

Capital Punishment

2266 The State’s effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. the primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
“If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
“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.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]

(source – punctuation and citation as in original, footnotes omitted)

Many folks will recall that Rome was not traditionally opposed to the death penalty, particularly for accused heretics. However, Rome’s view on this moral issue has been shifting to the liberal end of the spectrum, as evidenced by the CCC items above, which make capital punishment justifiable only in “very rare” if not “practically non-existent” circumstances.

Of course, the laws of Vatican City were originally drafted in older days, when this modernist mentality had not yet carried the day. Thus, the constitution of the Vatican City provided for capital punishment. However, it now reported that finally the laws of Vatican City have caught up to the shift in Rome’s view of morality (link to report). Thus, the Vatican City will join the ranks of other nations who are unable to obey the following commands:

Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

– TurretinFan

16 Responses to “Death Penalty and Rome”

  1. natamllc Says:

    Well, I mean, can we not state the obvious?John wrote about it this way:1Jn 5:16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life–to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 1Jn 5:17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 1Jn 5:18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 1Jn 5:19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. Paul, this way:Rom 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Rom 13:2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Rom 13:3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, Rom 13:4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Rom 13:5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. Rom 13:6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Rom 13:7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Rom 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. And to sum up, the greatest commandment is to love one another in this world, even our enemies, not violate one another to such a degree that we must put you to death!

  2. Dean Dough Says:

    Dear Turretinfan,One of the few things the Roman Catholics are getting right, and you don't like it. Figures entirely.

  3. Turretinfan Says:

    Dean:They're headed away from Scripture and Tradition on a whole host of issues. They're well behind you, but give them some time – they'll eventually catch up.

  4. Says:

    We have created a link to this article. Our website,, strives to be a valuable resource for learning about – and expressing your opinions on – all the issues of the day. We invite all political writers to visit us, and perhaps set up a profile, and post more links to articles such as this.

  5. Dean Dough Says:

    Dear Turretinfan,No, Roman Catholicism is not "catching up" any more than evangelical Christianity. You guys have all kinds of disagreements with each other, but in no case are any of you willing to concede the fundamental issue: Both the church and the Bible are falsified authorities. Until you accept that fact and work from it, you're not anywhere near my position.You would definitely benefit from a perusal of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. He explains this much better than I can.

  6. steve Says:

    If Carl Sagan is the worst we have to fear, I think we'll manage to scrape by.

  7. Dean Dough Says:

    Dear Steve,Fear? Why? The book makes good sense.

  8. Turretinfan Says:

    I think Steve's point is that Sagan's book isn't worth the paper it's printed on – and certainly can't hold a candle to the Scriptures.

  9. Dean Dough Says:

    Dear Turrentinfan,Well, if you read the book already why not interact with me on it?

  10. Turretinfan Says:

    What do you mean? Interact with your citation to that book generally?-TurretinFan

  11. Dean Dough Says:

    Dear Turrentinfan,Ultimately, yes, the book in general. Sagan is advocating for the methods of modern sciences. Steve seems to think that Sagan is a poor advocate, or maybe that these methods lead to such obviously bad results nobody could have much success arguing for them. If he read the book I think he would have a different opinion.If you want to start with the presenting issue, Sagan addresses the European witch trials and their modern analogues in chapters 7 and 24. If you were already familiar with these chapters I would like to think that you would have a more favorable opinion of the Vatican's unwillingness to use capital punishment. As for the rest of the book, on the one hand he points out how a "baloney detection toolkit" undermines beliefs that have no appeal for orthodox Christians either. On the other he advocates openly for applying this toolkit to all beliefs, including those that Biblical authors tell us it is foolish, evil and damnable not to believe. I agree with him. What do you think of his case? Why?

  12. dudleysharp Says:

    "Death Penalty Support: Modern Catholic Scholars" "Pope John Paul II: Prudential Judgement and the death penalty" "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents" "Killing equals Killing: The Amoral Confusion of Death Penalty Opponents"–very-distinct-moral-differences–new-mexico.aspx "The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge" "The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation" "Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review"–the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

  13. Turretinfan Says:

    The "baloney detection kit" is designed to be applied to arguments, not specifically to beliefs. Much of the kit consists of general principles of rational thought, with which we don't have any problem.As for the witch trials … that looks like an appeal to emotion, as opposed to a rational argument against the death penalty.

  14. Dean Dough Says:

    Dear Turretinfan,'Much of the kit consists of general principles of rational thought, with which we don't have any problem.'Yea and Amen!'The "baloney detection kit" is designed to be applied to arguments, not specifically to beliefs.'Short response: That's your distinction, not Sagan'sLong response: Mr. Smith makes 7 arguments before the House Committee of Investigations of Paranormal Phenonena justifying his belief that he was abducted by aliens late one night. For every one of them other witnesses present simpler, better-substantiated explanations that do not support the belief of an alien abduction. It is still possible that Mr. Smith was abducted by aliens. If the the members of the committee have their wits about them, they will allocate not one red cent for further investigation of the matter. Sagan's point: a belief for which there are no good arguments should not be acted upon. 'As for the witch trials … that looks like an appeal to emotion, as opposed to a rational argument against the death penalty.'Short response: Looks like an excuse not to read the chapters.Long response: In your original post, you juxtaposed citations of Ex 22:18 and Gen 9:6 with only the comment that Vatican City joins other nations that are unable to obey the commands. On a generous reading of your post, there appears to be a knowledge gap here. At first I thought you simply weren't aware of the history of witch trials. Otherwise, out of consideration to your readers you certainly would want to explain what obedience to the Ex.22:18 should look like.But then I decided I should look at the gap the other way around. I certainly don't need to tell you that even otherwise orthodox Reformed Christians have different opinions about whether both of these commands are directed at modern civil governments and how they are to be obeyed. You stake out a position with no explanation here. Clearly your comments are directed at other insiders. I've been out of conservative Reformed circles for a good while now; I must have missed some substantial body of work on how to implement Ex 22:18 in a modern society. Could you light a candle for this benighted "liberal?" Specifically, what is a witch? What behaviors mark one as a witch? What evidence will convict someone accused of witchcraft in a court of law? What procedures may be used to procure this evidence? What legal protections are granted to the accused? May convicts be granted clemency? Of what sorts and under what circumstances?

  15. Andrew Suttles Says:

    DD -TFan posted two Old Testament scriptures for those (presumably believers) that believe capital punishment is morally wrong (and he could have posted many more). These Scriptures prove that capital punishment is not morally wrong in the eyes of God, because He commanded it to be carried out in the nation of Israel. TFan was not stating that we are or should be subject to the national/civil laws of ancient Israel. SO, this post is not about witches, but about what the Scriptures teach us. Natamllc wisely pointed out that we have a teaching from a New Testament Apostle that teaches all believers to be subject to their civil government who "does not bear the sword in vain." It is clearly implied in this statement, that the Civil Government has the power of life/death. One who uses the Bible as his guide has no moral basis for opposing the death penalty.

  16. Dean Dough Says:

    Dear Andrew,Your reading of Turrentinfan's post is interesting. He was NOT saying that modern civil governments are obligated to put "witches" to death? He was simply cutting the moral ground out from under the Vatican? OK, so they have to use some other set of criteria for deciding what to do with "witches." That's where his post stakes out a clear position: Exodus 22:18 commands execution for "witches," (insert assumed premisses about applicability of this command to modern civil governments), therefore modern civil governments are obligated to execute "witches." Turretinfan, help us out here!This whole discussion is not about the death penalty being proscribed as absolutely wrong in all cases. I don't believe that, the Vatican statement does not assert that, and Turretinfan does not assert that it does. This is a question of when it is justified, not whether, and how you make that decision. The Vatican statement did not rule out the death penalty absolutely. And it attempts to clarify the criteria it is using: "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.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.](source – punctuation and citation as in original, footnotes omitted)." If you don't believe that modern civil governments are obligated to impose the death penalty in all precise cases and ways prescribed by the OT law, you agree with the Vatican at least to that extent. So, what criteria do you use to decide when it is legitimate?

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