“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.” – Pope John Paul II, Mass in St. Louis, MO, January 27, 1999
I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live. (Dt 30:19)
Catholic teaching offers a unique perspective on crime and punishment. It begins with the recognition that the dignity of the human person applies to both victims and offenders. It affirms our commitment to seek justice, comfort and support victims and their families, while acknowledging the God-given dignity of every human life, even for those who do great harm. Catholic teaching on human life is rooted in the belief that all life has inherent dignity and is a gift from God that must be respected and defended from conception until natural death.
In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II challenged followers of Christ to be “unconditionally pro life.” He reminded us that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform” (Gospel of Life, 27).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means” (CCC, 2267). The test of whether the death penalty can be used is not the gravity of the offense, but whether it is absolutely necessary to protect society. The Catechism adds that today “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent’” (CCC, 2267).
In 2005, the Catholic bishops of the United States issued, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death. In the document the bishops stated that the gift of life must be respected and protected; “that every life is a precious gift from God (see Gn 2:7, 21-23) and that we are all created in God’s image and redeemed by Jesus Christ, who himself was crucified. They acknowledged that sentences such as “life in prison without parole” provide non-lethal alternatives and called for an end to the use of the death penalty in the United States, stating “it is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life.”
Ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death and toward building a culture of life. (United States Catholic Bishops, 2005. A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death)
- End Death Penalty Prayer Cards: English, Español
- Prayer for an End to the Death Penalty 1 (here)
- Prayer for the End of the Death Penalty 2 (here)
- Intercessory Prayers
- Liturgical Resources from Catholic Mobilizing Network
- Say the Pax Christi Prayer to abolish the death penalty. Pray for prisoners on death row. October 10 is the International Day to abolish the death Penalty.
- Hold a Group Discussion on Ending the Death Penaltyor bring the topic of the death penalty to your ministry
- Contact a legislator and share your opinions on the Death Penalty
- Write to and get to know a prisoner on death row as a parish activity
- Read Dead Man Walking by Sr. Helen Prejean
- Join the Efforts of The Catholic Mobilizing Network to end the use of the Death Penalty
- Sign the Catholic Mobilizing Network Pledge here
- Keep up to date with the current executions so that you can pray for the victims. Visit the Death Penalty Information Center.
- Sign up for the Death Penalty Discourse Newsletter with Helen Prejean
- Join the Death Penalty Focus Chapter of Orange County which meets on the third Wednesday of each month from
7:00 p.m. -8:30 p.m. at St. Joseph Center, 480 S. Batavia St. Orange. Contact Jan Urban at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Gospel of Life and Capital Punishment
- Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty
- Resources on Ending the Use of the Death Penalty in California
- 2016 Elections: Death Penalty Resources
CONNECT WITH GREAT ORGANIZATIONS
Chair, Orange County Chapter
Death Penalty Focus
“the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means… the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (CCC, 2267).