Majority of US adults support death penalty

Death penalty Credit California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Wikipedia CC 20 CNA The lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison./ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

A majority of U.S. adults still support the administration of capital punishment, according to a June 2 Pew Research Center report. 

The report referred to a survey taken in April that was conducted online using the Center’s American Trends Panel, which concluded about six-in-ten U.S. adults favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder.

Majority support for the death penalty gradually rises with an increase of the age of respondents. The most supportive of the death penalty are adults ages 50 to 64 with 69% in favor. 

The least supportive aged group are those respondents ages 18 to 29 with 51% approval. The age groups of 39 to 49, and 65 and older both showed about six-in-ten favoring use of the death penalty. 

While the Church teaches that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice in the West.

Regarding the execution of criminals, the Catechism of the Council of Trent taught that by its “legal and judicious exercise” civil authorities “punish the guilty and protect the innocent.”

St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

And Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s paragraph regarding capital punishment.

Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech of Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.

Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”

“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Fr. Petri continued.

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