Pope Innocent I in 405

“It must be remembered that power was granted by God, and to avenge crime the sword was permitted; he who carries out this vengeance is God’s minister. What motive have we for condemning a practice that all hold to be permitted by God? (Innocent 1, Epist. 6, C. 3. 8, ad Exsuperium, Episcopum Tolosanum, 20 February 405, PL 20,495)


Pope Innocent III in 1210

The secular power can without mortal sin carry out a sentence of death, provided it proceeds in imposing the penalty not from hatred but with judgment, not carelessly but with due solicitude. (Innocent III, DS 795/425)


Pope Paul III, 1534-1549

Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry VIII in 1538, and opened the Council of

Trent in 1545. “…The punishments to be meted out were specified: imprisonment, execution, and confiscation of goods in the case of those condemned to death.” Papal Bull, Licet ab Initio, 1542


Pope Julius III 1550-1555

As a young man Julius was imprisoned on “death row” during the sack of Rome by mercenaries of Emperor Charles VII. Later as a cardinal he tried to persuade convicts to repent but still enforced the death penalty many times.


Pope Pius IV 1559-1565

Reconvened the Council of Trent and shepherded it to conclusion. Pope Pius IV made full use of the death penalty.


Pope Saint Pius V 1566 - 1572          

Saint Pius V implemented the reforms of the Council of Trent including the Roman Catechism and promulgated the 1570 Roman Missal used until 1970.
His papal bull of
July 13,1566 threatened the death penalty for all who dared to give shelter to murderers or outlaws. Pope Pius V oversaw many executions.


The Roman Catechism of Trent on the Execution of Criminals:

...“The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this Commandment which prohibits murder.” ...


Pope Sixtus V 1585-1590 , The Iron Pope

He launched a much needed anti-crime campaign resulting in over 7,000 

criminals being executed.


Pope Clement VIII 1592-1605

It was during papacy of Clement VIII that Robert Cardinal Bellarmine wrote an influential book, The Art of Dying Well. Bellarmine’s approach was that the condemned man could actually be rehabilitated by his suffering and repentance, which would transform his execution into an expiation and his death could become a “good” death.


Blessed Pope Pius IX, the longest reining pope. 32 years, 1846 -1878.

Pope Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council in 1869, decreed papal infallibility, and defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. He ordered several executions in the Papal States


Pope Leo XIII, 1901

"The death sentence is a necessary and efficacious means for the Church to attain its ends when rebels against it disturb the ecclesiastical unity, especially obstinate heretics who cannot be restrained by any other penalty from continuing to disturb ecclesiastical order." - Preface to vol. 2 of "Book of Canon Law

Pope Saint Pius X in his Catechism, 1908

“ It is lawful to kill when fighting in a just war; when carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in punishment of a crime.” (Answer to question 3 - Are there cases in which it is lawful to kill?)

Pope Pius XII in 1952

"Even when it is a question of the execution of a condemned man, the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. In this case it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned person of the of life in expiation of his crime when, by his crime, he has already disposed himself of his right to live."- An Address to the First International Congress on the Histopathology of the Nervous System.

When popes governed the Papal States, they measured out punishments including death. One papal executioner, Giovanni Battista Bugatti, served six popes, including Blessed Pius IX, and personally executed 516 felons from 1796 to 1864