An Appeal to the Cardinals of the Catholic Church


Pope Francis has revised the Catechism of the Catholic Church to read, “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” This statement has been understood by many, both inside and outside the Church, to teach that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral and thus is always illicit, even in principle.


Though no Catholic is obliged to support the use of the death penalty in practice (and not all of the undersigned do support its use), to teach that capital punishment is always and intrinsically evil would contradict Scripture. That the death penalty can be a legitimate means of securing retributive justice is affirmed in Genesis 9:6 and many other biblical texts, and the Church holds that Scripture cannot teach moral error. The legitimacy in principle of capital punishment is also the consistent teaching of the magisterium for two millennia. To contradict Scripture and tradition on this point would cast doubt on the credibility of the magisterium in general.


Concerned by this gravely scandalous situation, we wish to exercise the right affirmed by the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which at Canon 212 states:


The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.


We are guided also by the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who states:


If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” (Summa Theologiae, Part II-II, Question 33, Article 4, ad 2)


Hence we, the undersigned, issue the following appeal:

To their Most Reverend Eminences, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church,


Since it is a truth contained in the Word of God, and taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church, that criminals may lawfully be put to death by the civil power when this is necessary to preserve just order in civil society, and since the present Roman pontiff has now more than once publicly manifested his refusal to teach this doctrine, and has rather brought great confusion upon the Church by seeming to contradict it, and by inserting into the

Catechism of the Catholic Church a paragraph which will cause and is already causing many people, both believers and non-believers, to suppose that the Church considers, contrary to the Word of God, that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, we call upon Your Eminences to advise His Holiness that it is his duty to put an end to this scandal, to withdraw this paragraph from the Catechism, and to teach the word of God unadulterated; and we state our conviction that this is a duty seriously binding upon yourselves, before God and before the Church.



Hadley Arkes
Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions Emeritus
Amherst College


Joseph Bessette
Alice Tweed Tuohy Professor of Government and Ethics
Claremont McKenna College


Patrick Brennan
John F. Scarpa Chair in Catholic Legal Studies
Villanova University


J. Budziszewski
Professor of Government and Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin


Isobel Camp
Professor of Philosophy
Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas


Richard Cipolla
Diocese of Bridgeport


Eric Claeys
Professor of Law
Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University


Travis Cook
Associate Professor of Government
Belmont Abbey College


 S. A. Cortright
Professor of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s College


Cyrille Dounot
Professor of Legal History
Université Clermont Auvergne


 Patrick Downey
Professor of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s College


 Eduardo Echeverria
Professor of Philosophy and Theology
Sacred Heart Major Seminary


 Edward Feser
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Pasadena City College


Alan Fimister
Assistant Professor of Theology
St. John Vianney Theological Seminary


Luca Gili
Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Université du Québec à Montréal


 Brian Harrison
Scholar in Residence
Oblates of Wisdom Study Center


 L. Joseph Hebert
Professor of Political Science
St. Ambrose University


Rafael Hüntelmann
Lecturer in Philosophy
International Seminary of St. Peter


John Hunwicke
Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham


 Robert C. Koons
Professor of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin


Peter Koritansky
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Prince Edward Island


Peter Kwasniewski
Independent Scholar
Wausau, Wisconsin


John Lamont
Divine Faith


Roberto de Mattei
The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story


Robert T. Miller
Professor of Law
University of Iowa


 Gerald Murray
Archdiocese of New York


Lukas Novak
Lecturer in Philosophy
University of South Bohemia


Thomas Osborne
Professor of Philosophy
University of St. Thomas


Michael Pakaluk
Professor of Ethics
Catholic University of America


 Claudio Pierantoni
Professor of Medieval Philosophy
University of Chile


 Thomas Pink
Professor of Philosophy
King’s College London


 Andrew Pinsent
Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre
University of Oxford


 Alyssa Pitstick
Independent Scholar
Spokane, Washington


Donald S. Prudlo
Professor of Ancient and Medieval History
Jacksonville State University


Anselm Ramelow
Chair of the Department of Philosophy
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology


 George W. Rutler
Archdiocese of New York


 Matthew Schmitz
Senior Editor
First Things


Josef Seifert
Founding Rector
International Academy of Philosophy


 Joseph Shaw
Fellow of St Benet’s Hall
University of Oxford


Anna Silvas
Adjunct Senior Research Fellow
University of New England


Michael Sirilla
Professor of Dogmatic and Systematic Theology
Franciscan University of Steubenville


Joseph G. Trabbic
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Ave Maria University


Giovanni Turco
Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Udine


 Michael Uhlmann
Professor of Government
Claremont Graduate University


John Zuhlsdorf
Diocese of Velletri-Segni