An excellent article from The Catholic Thing reminding us that the Church’s support for capital punishment is and has always been, strong; regardless of the various political reasons some—Catholics and non-Catholics—attempt to make it appear that Church teaching is in opposition to capital punishment.
“Pope John Paul II often appealed for compassion and clemency towards condemned murderers, and American Catholic bishops have stated that the death penalty should not be imposed in the United States. Nevertheless, no pope has ever used his office to condemn capital punishment per se, and the bishops, whether taken singularly or collectively, have no authority under civil or canon law to urge the imposition of or attempt to block the application of the death penalty. That authority is vested solely in the civil power, and is consigned to the state by virtue of the natural law.
“Representatives of the Catholic Church are free at all times to express their personal opinions that other forms of punishment are sufficient to ensure proper order or to defend the innocent, both of which are crucial to the well being of the community at large. But the determination that the imposition of the death penalty is necessary belongs exclusively to the state. The Church recognizes this power and understands that its source is divine.
“What the Church does not confer, the Church cannot take away. Even the American bishops’ statement opposing the use of the death penalty clearly admits that “the state has the right to take the life of a person guilty of a serious crime.” The late John Cardinal O’Connor, who was personally opposed to the death penalty, stated from the pulpit in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1994, that “formal official Church teaching does not deny the right of the state to exercise the death penalty under certain, narrowly defined conditions. It is a matter of judgment.”