Papal and Vatican Statements

Vatican City 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. 

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.”

-Pope Francis Address to the Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law Vatican City, October 24, 2014

“…I draw the attention of society’s leaders to the need to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty and to reform the penal system…”

– Pope Benedict XVI  Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus Benin, November 19, 2011

“I renew the appeal…to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”

-Pope John Paul II Homily  St. Louis, MO, January 27, 1999

More Papal and Vatican Statements

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

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.

More Bishop Statements

"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."

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.

More Pastoral Statements

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.

“Capital punishment vitiates our hearts’ capacity for mercy and love,” the bishops write, noting that “the death penalty not only does not correspond to the common good, it actually does great harm to it.”