The Catholic Church and the death penalty

Table of Content

The Catholic Church is believed to have the highest number of members all over the world.  The Pope is considered the head of the church and under him there are bishops who are heads of dioceses.  The church preaches the teachings of Jesus Christ, sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the sick, Holy orders, and Matrimony), and act of charity. The church subscribes to the Ten Commandments by God as revealed by Moses in the Old Testament of the Holy Book, referred to as the bible.  The fifth commandment states that one must not take another persons life. It is because of this commandment that the church forbids murder penalty. These commandments govern a catholic follower’s life (Moses. 2003).

The Church Believes that there is one God, however, in him there is 3 eternal persons referred to as the Holy Trinity, i.e. God the father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Catholics depend on the Holy Spirit for protection from making doctrinal errors.  It is on this strength that the Catholic Church believes that their traditions and practices are founded on Jesus Christ’s Teachings.  Their strong belief that their understanding of the Holy Bible is divine driven dispels any doubt of misinterpretations (Edward. 2003).

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

According to the Catholic Church, when Jesus Came, John the Baptist had already prepared a way for him.  He had taught people all there was to know including the Ten Commandments. When Jesus came, he said he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  However, he said that the two greatest commandments are for them to love the lord their God with all their hearts, and to love their neighbour as they loved themselves. The Catholic Church fervently disapproves death penalty because God commanded them not to murder.  This is number five of the Ten Commandments.  Above all the word church denotes the people of God, therefore their church represents the presence of Jesus Christ on earth, and so they are obliged to abide by his teachings.  He also preached that the one’s body is a body of Christ.  For this reason, the body is supposed to be protected and loved and that Catholics are divinely invited by the Holy Spirit to serve and unify all (Moses. 2003).

In addition, when Jesus was having the last supper with his 12 disciples, he entrusted in them to continue preaching his gospel.  The Catholic doctrine teaches that he said that through one of his disciple Simon Peter he would build his Church, and the Church is Catholic Church.  The beginning of this Church was symbolized by the day of the Pentecost, when the disciples received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.  The pope and bishops of today are considered to be the successors of these disciples. The Catholic Church has therefore continued to preach, Jesus Christ, The Sacrament, and the act of charity (Pope John Paul II. 1995).

Given that Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he is considered to be both human and divine.  Therefore, his preaching is divinely driven.  Putting emphasis on the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments, and the two greatest commandments, the Catholic Church teaches that killing is a sin, and that if you love your neighbour as you love yourself, you would not kill him.  Also, one’s body is a temple of God that needs to be nurtured; therefore, killing it would be doing what is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Andrew. 1897).

The Church teaches that when one commits a sin, he or she detaches from the love of God.  The Church also categories sin in two categories; Venial sin and mortal sin.  Venial sins are considered less serious while mortal sins are very serious and strain one’s relationship with God.  Taking away ones life is very serious, and therefore, the Catholic Church does not agree to death penalty.  The doctrine also states that Man was created by God, and therefore, has neither the power nor authority to take way another mans life (James. 1997).

To accentuate this, the church preaches forgiveness. By referring to when Jesus asked a group of people that anyone who had never sinned before to throw a stone to a woman who was just about to be stoned for having committed adultery.  The Church also teaches that Jesus said that people should forgive one another 7 x 77 times.  Basing on these teachings the church did not endorse death penalty for a very long time until recently.  The Church doctrine also teaches that God is merciful and therefore, forgives and also free people from sin in order to reconcile with him.  The crucifixion of Jesus Christ signifies the forgiveness of the man’s original sin by Adam and Eve, and absolves every man from sin (Moses. 2003).

Before Christ’s death and resurrection, he promised his disciple a helper and indeed he sent the Holy Spirit, on the day of the Pentecost, whom he promised that, would reveal all things.  The Catholic Doctrines teaches that the Holy Spirit is received through the communion, whereby ones sins are washed away upon taking the communion. The Church also teaches that one must be in a state of grace before taking the holy sacrament, which is achieved by the act of confession.  Going through Church practices such as confession or penance, baptism, and confirmation can indeed absolve one from any sin, no matter the gravity of sin. After one is absolved from sin he is considered to have renewed his relationship with God.  Therefore, death penalty is unwarranted (Paul & Owens 2004).

In a nutshell the fifth commanded orders all people since the Catholic Church is universal, to respect life, including the unborn, and also to  love their enemy.  This is because human life sanctity in the essence that it was created by God and thus human is supposed to have a special relationship with him whom they refer to as the father and so he wholly owns man.  What a man does not own, he has no authority to destroy.  Death penalty in translated by the Catholic Church as destroying what one does not own. The Catholic Church has continued to fight states that practice death penalty with no success while calling out people to embrace reconciliation, mercy, and redemption instead (Samuel. 1815).

However, history has recorded that in the early church some Roman Catholics such as Aquinas endorsed death penalty on the basis that it was a natural moral law.  His argument was that it was upon the state to protect its people from bad people.  Administers of the punishment would be chosen appropriately and their act would not be considered to be sinful. This action was perceived to be an effort to coin a good and responsible society and so it did not amount to sin. The pro-death penalty Catholics quoted the bible verses such 1st Corinthians chapter 5 verses 6 that state that people must ensure that the evil one are sent away from the community.  According to them to the latter is more superior to Exodus chapter 20 Verse 13 where by God commands Christians not to kill (James. 1997).

In 1995 the Pope John Paul II is said to have said in his Evangelium Vitae that given the gravity of crime of today’s world death penalty can be scarcely overlooked.  This is said to have been received with confusion and surprise by the members of the Catholic Church.  Reason being that for a very long time, the Church was absolutely against death penalty.  And also the Pope is considered to be divinely appointed, and so his teachings are immaculate (Paul & Owens 2004).

Today’s Catechism of the Catholic Church has undergone readjustments.  It elaborates the 5th commandment to allow killing in the event of protection of one’s life for instance during war, the death penalty is therefore assumed by some clergies of the church to fall in this bracket. Today, the Church has quietly endorsed the death penalty.  However, they have only endorsed where the identity of the guilty person has been revealed beyond reasonable doubt. The Church also only endorses death penalty in cases where there is no any other penalty that would equate the crime committed.


Curran, Edward. C. (2003). Change in Official Catholic Moral Teaching. New York: Paulist


Devine, Andrew. (1897). The Commandments explained according to the teaching and doctrine

of the catholic. New York: Washbourne.

Elshtai, Paul. E., & Owens, C. E. (2004).  Religion and the Death Penalty: A call for Reckoning;

Win B. Eardmans Publishing.

Farrugia, Moses. (2003). Catholicism: The Story of Catholic Christianity; London: Oxford

University Press.

Megivern, James. (1997). The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey. New York:

Paulist Press.

O’Gallagher, Samuel. (1815). Doctrine of the Catholic Church; New York: S. O’Gallagher.

Pope John Paul II. (1995). Evangelium Vitae; Rome: St. Louise Review.


Cite this page

The Catholic Church and the death penalty. (2017, Feb 09). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront