Pope Francis reversed 2000 years of Catholic doctrine in August with his declaration that the death penalty is “inadmissible” as a punishment for any crime. Francis, who had been an ardent advocate for changing the Church’s long-held stance on capital punishment, stated that the death penalty was “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
Until this change, the Church was in favor of capital punishment in cases where it served as the only means to protect society from violent criminals who would almost certainly kill again.
For centuries, spanning all the way back to the life of Jesus and Peter (the founder of the Catholic Church and one of the Apostles), the Church has taught that the killing of another human being is allowed to protect other lives. Contrary to common thought, Jesus does not forbid self-defense, in fact, he encourages it. In Luke 22:35, Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords and take up arms to defend themselves from the Romans. It is only when the disciples use their swords out of vengeance instead of in self-defense that Jesus forbids them from carrying them in Matthew 26:52.
Commanding the Disciples to not use their weapons in anger does not negate the fact that self-defense with deadly weapons is permitted in the Bible, and in fact, is advocated by Christ himself. The idea that Jesus was a pacifist does not hold muster when examined. Jesus died on the cross to cleanse humanity of its sins as destined by God. He did not wish for his disciples to join him in death out of a pacifistic belief that violence in self-defense is immoral.
The Church also permits killing to protect the lives of others during war. The Catholic Church’s Just War Doctrine, first theorized by Saint Augustine of Hippo in the mid 300’s and adopted by the Vatican soon after, states that war may be carried out, blood may be shed, and people can be killed during an attempt to preserve life and liberty. For a war to be considered a “just war” it must meet certain criteria. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church believes a just war is one in which:
- The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations is lasting, grave, and certain.
- All other means of putting an end to it have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
- There must be serious prospects of success.
- The use of arms does not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
Once the church has determined that a just war is warranted, killing and violence may be permitted, but also under certain circumstances. The killing must be justified (i.e. no civilians), it must be measured and proportional (no WMD, chemical weapons, etc.), and once violence and killing are no longer necessary, the war should stop immediately.
Why would killing a violent criminal on the street in self-defense, or killing enemy combatants during a war not be considered “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” but putting that same violent criminal or war criminal to death in a prison would? If “justifiable homicide” is permitted in one case, surely a justified murder is justified in all cases.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church permits the use of force and killing so long as it is justified both in self-defense and in war. Why is the death penalty any different? Catholics who favor ending capital punishment argue that the current way the death penalty is administered limits the opportunity for the condemned to repent and be saved. Perhaps this is true, but as discussed before, prematurely ending a person’s life to save another’s is permitted by Catholic doctrine. If we follow the logic that killing in war is permissible, but capital punishment is not, why is Ted Bundy given the opportunity to repent, yet an 18-year-old Taliban soldier is not?
If Pope Francis were to have reversed the Church’s teachings surrounding the death penalty because he found it to be no longer useful in protecting others from dangerous criminals, that would have at least been an ideologically consistent position, but Pope Francis did not provide any rationality even close to that. If that is not the definition of inconsistency, I don’t know what is.
The death penalty system is by no means a flawless apparatus for justice, but nothing ever is. Yet the death penalty is absolutely vital to the maintenance of law and order and the protection of society. Capital punishment is the only means available to guarantee, with 100% effectiveness, that the men and women of the world who seek to do nothing more than cause the deaths of innocent people have their efforts thwarted.
Being for the death penalty and being Catholic are not mutually exclusive things, nor does it make you a hypocrite. Protecting others by killing those who seek the death of others is consistent with the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and with the word of God. For it was God who said, “Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. They are to be put to death.” (Num. 35:31-33).
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.