The 2008 statement from the U.S. Catholic Bishops on Faithful Citizenship is pretty good—especially strong on the pro-life issue—though their continued calling for an end to the death penalty is somewhat incongruent with two thousand years of Catholic teaching, the subject of our 2008 research report from LampStand, Catholic Social Teaching & Capital Punishment: A Tradition of Support.
“An important point was made by Avery Cardinal Dulles (2004) regarding reversing the traditional support of the Church for capital punishment by abolishing it—a current project of the USCCB: The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.
Cardinal Dulles wrote: “The reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the magisterium. Consistency with scripture and long-standing Catholic tradition is important for the grounding of many current teachings of the Catholic Church; for example, those regarding abortion, contraception, the permanence of marriage, and the ineligibility of women for priestly ordination. If the tradition on capital punishment had been reversed, serious questions would be raised regarding other doctrines….
“For those interested in the practical applications of my analysis, I can make three suggestions:
“1) The death penalty should not be abolished. It should remain in law, and its implementation should be a real possibility.
“2) The death penalty should be imposed only in cases where the restoration of social order and the moral health of the society strictly require it and where the serious guilt of the perpetuator is certain. Such cases will be extremely rare for the reasons I have given.
“3) The judgment of these concrete cases is a prudential one to be made in the actual situation. Those who make the judgment would not be priests but competent secular agents, including judges and juries who are guided by sound principles. By reason of their vocation, priests cannot suitably call for a judgment of blood.” (Dulles, Avery (Cardinal). (2004). Catholic Teaching on the Death Penalty. In E.C. Owens, J.D. Carlson, & E.P. Elshtain (Eds.). Religion and the death penalty, (pp. 23-30). Cambridge, England; Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 26 & 30)
(LampStand Research Report #2 , March 25, 2008, pp. 25-26)