Date of Completion


Degree Type

Honors Thesis - Campus Access


Political Science (POLS)

First Advisor

John Michael Parrish, Ph.D.


Prior to the 20th century, Roman Catholic moral tradition was almost exclusively supportive of capital punishment. More recently, however, some Church leaders including Pope John Paul II have argued that the practice is inconsistent with the Church’s teaching on human dignity. These comparatively recent developments in Church teaching on the death penalty have put the Catholic viewpoint at odds with the retributivist theory of punishment championed by Immanuel Kant, a pivotal thinker in contemporary liberal theory and philosophical ethics. As many United States citizens are committed to Catholicism as both their religious and moral guide, and much of contemporary liberalism rests upon Kantian moral principles, the central question of this project is this: how far is a commitment to Catholic social teaching reconcilable with the Kantian approach to capital punishment? To answer this question, I analyze the intellectual development of both views, beginning first with the Church’s views on the death penalty and then the Kantian view on the death penalty. I find that it is indeed possible to partially reconcile the Church’s and the Kantian views on capital punishment by combining personalism as espoused by John Paul II with a circumstantialist approach to the Kantian framework. Merging these two traditions greatly limits the justifiability of the death penalty, restricting it to cases of “reasonable” social defense consistent with the prerequisite moral desert of the punished.