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Book examines shifting church moral teachings on capital punishment


This is the cover of "Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition: Second Edition" by E. Christian Brugger. The book is reviewed by Agostino Bono. (CNS)

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"Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition: Second Edition" by E. Christian Brugger. University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2014). 281 pp. $29.

Permitting capital punishment has always been problematic for the Catholic Church.

Historically, theologians and church officials have considered it a limited exception to the Fifth Commandment against killing. It has been judged as something states need in certain circumstances to punish people committing heinous crimes, to deter others from such crimes and to protect the citizenry.

Church debate has focused on the criteria that morally allow civil authorities to use capital punishment. For over 2,100 years the criteria have contracted and expanded, often depending on historical and political situations.

"Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition" holds that St. John Paul II broke with this tradition. E. Christian Brugger argues that the late pope set the foundations for declaring capital punishment always morally and ethically wrong, even though the pope never stated this. Brugger's premise is that St. John Paul shifted the historical basis for granting the exception from retribution and punishment to self-defense and rehabilitation. This is a rupture with tradition rather than a development or evolution of church teaching, his argument continues.

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