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Papal and Vatican Statements

The Holy See (the Vatican) advocates on behalf of all life, including the condemned. On this page,  you can Below is a list of recent papal statements relating to Catholic teaching on the death penalty. 

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“There is no fitting punishment without hope! Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment.”

A selection of three key quotes on the death penalty:

“It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples’ lives from an unjust aggressor.”

Bishop Statements

In the Catholic Church in the United States, pastoral statements are offered by individual bishops in: dioceses, state Catholic conferences, regional synods, or the national conference (USCCB). In the case of the death penalty, U.S. bishops have been strong anti-death penalty advocates.

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"It can be very difficult to think of mercy at a time when justice for unthinkable crimes seems to cry out for vengeance," Bishop Dewane commented, "[t]he harm and pain caused by terrible sin is real." Yet, he invoked Pope Francis' reflection that, "Jesus on the cross prayed for those who had crucified him: 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do' (Lk. 23:34).  Mercy is the only way to overcome evil.  Justice is necessary, very much so, but by itself it is not enough. Justice and mercy must go together."

In the middle of 2015, the two chairmen of the Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and on Pro-Life Activities co-authored a joint statement stating a recommitment and reminder of the campaign to end the death penalty that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops i

As Catholics, we need to ask the following: How can we restore our respect for law and life? How can we protect and rebuild communities, confront crime without vengeance, and defend life without taking life? These questions challenge us as pastors and as teachers of the Gospel.

Pastoral Statements

In the Catholic Church in the United States, pastoral statements are offered by individual bishops in particular dioceses, state Catholic conferences of bishops, regional synods of bishops, or the national conference (USCCB) when seeking to apply universal church teaching to particular circumstances or issues. In the case of the death penalty, U.S. bishops have often been strong anti-death penalty advocates for persons sentenced to be executed. Often the Holy See (the Vatican) has also advocated on behalf of the condemned. The list below includes more recent papal and episcopal statements relating to Catholic teaching on the death penalty and its application to particular laws and state-sponsored executions.

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On May 3, 2017 Bishop Francis Malooly from the Diocese of Wilmington wrote a strongly worded letter urging the General Assembly of Delaware to reconsider a new proposition that would reinstate the death penalty.

To this end, we must ask ourselves whether or not there is vengeance in our hearts. In many ways that which we fear–violence itself–has forced us to become proponents of violence. Just as the pursuit of justice should never be perverted by vengeance, fear should never darken the ever-shining light of life.

In 2017, the Bishops of Mississippi came out with a statement calling for an end to the death penalty in the state and for support to promote the dignity and sanctity of all life.

In 2017, the Bishop of Arkansas, Bishop Taylor, came out with a statement to the Governor calling for an end to the death penalty in the state and for support to promote the dignity and sanctity of all life.

State Catholic Conference Statements

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Tennessee underwent legislation which sought to exclude those with severe mental illness from the death penalty.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference upholds the teachings of Pope John Paul II on the death penalty and supports Minnesota's decision to abolish it. Their 2017 legislative principle states:

The New York Catholic Conference strongly oppose the death penalty and believe New York should legislatively abolish the death penalty. They oppose it on the premise that the death penalty is unnecessary in today's society. A portion of their statement says:

In 1999, the Catholic Conference of Michigan, in a strongly worded statement, expressed their definitive stance against capital punishment. A portion of the text is the following:

Religious Orders Statements

Religious communities of women and men are active in efforts to abolish the death penalty. Below you will find a growing number of statements from different congregations who view the death penalty as incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are you a member of a religious community? Has your community issued a statement on the death penalty which is not listed here? We would love to share it! Please contact CMN and provide us the information below:

  • A paragraph about your community and its mission, including what state(s) you are located in
  • Your statement
  • A link to your website’s death penalty page (if you have one), or a link to your website (homepage)

More Religious Orders Statements

As women committed to justice, taught by the example of Jesus in the Gospels and by the Catholic Church, we reverence all life. In response to these teachings we, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Springfield, Massachusetts, are opposed to using the death penalty as a punishment for crime.

We are committed to being instruments through which love, justice, and peace shape our nation and our world. We respect and support Pope John Paul ll’s appeal “for a consensus to end the death penalty which is both cruel and unnecessary.” We endorse ending the death penalty in conjunction with the mission and ministry of the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Compelled by the Gospel message and challenged by our Foundress, Marie Esther Blondin, whose vision mandates us to bring all to the fullness of life, we, the Sisters of Saint Anne of the United States oppose the death penalty. 

We, the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Dayton Ohio, publicly condemn the use of capital punishment in the United States and in the world. We believe the use of capital punishment is responding to violence with violence and perpetuates the cycle of violence and revenge.