As the end of his administration approaches, President Trump has restarted the use of the federal death penalty. Since July there have been 10 executions with another three before he leaves office. These federal executions are the first in 17 years and raise critical moral, human, and policy choices for the nation and a new presidential administration.
In the United States, executions and death sentences have declined dramatically, and public support for capital punishment is at historic lows. Catholic teaching against capital punishment is rooted in our recognition of the inherent dignity of each person and in the sanctity of human life. Pope John Paul II appealed for an end to the death penalty during a visit to the United States, and Pope Benedict XVI spoke even more strongly, calling on world leaders to “make every effort to eliminate the death penalty.” In line with his predecessors, Pope Francis called for the abolition of the death penalty in his U.S. visit to Congress in 2015, and in 2018 he revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” a teaching he underscored in his recent encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti.
This Public Dialogue, co-sponsored by the Catholic Mobilizing Network and Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, brought together a U.S. bishop, a Christian pastor, and two national advocates for ending capital punishment to explore how the principles of Catholic social thought can offer direction and urgency in ending the death penalty, both in the United States and worldwide.
The panelists explored questions such as:
- How has the federal government’s use of the death penalty expanded under the Trump administration? How does that fit with the decline in the number of executions and declining support for capital punishment death sentences in the United States generally?
- What does the Catholic Church teach regarding the death penalty? How has Catholic teaching on this issue developed under Pope Francis and his most recent predecessors and why?
- Is resistance to the death penalty a necessary and integral element of the Church’s defense of human life? Is it a “pro-life” issue? How is the death penalty like other issues concerning the dignity of life, and how is it dissimilar?
- How can people oppose these executions and encourage the new administration to end the federal death penalty and capital punishment more broadly?
View a list of articles, books, and other resources for this dialogue.
John Carr, director of the Initiative, moderated the dialogue.
This online Public Dialogue was co-sponsored by the Catholic Mobilizing Network and the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.