In 1974, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), "by a substantial majority, voted to declare its opposition to capital punishment" (source). In 1980, it reaffirmed this stance in the Bishop's Statement on Capital Punishment, specifically calling for the abolition of the death penalty. And in 2005, it published a longer work along the same lines, called A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.

Thus in the United States there has been consistent opposition to the death penalty by at least a majority of Catholic bishops for nearly 45 years. Yet, according to Pew Research, as of the spring of 2018, a majority of American Catholics (53%) favor it.

Pew Research indicates that support for the death penalty among Americans in general has been trending down since at least 1996, so I suspect that support from Catholics has also declined. However, I'd like to better understand the trend. Since 1974, when the USCCB formally came out against the death penalty:

  • Has US Catholic support for the death penalty declined faster than among the general US population?
  • Has US Catholic support for the death penalty declined faster than among Protestants?

I'm particularly curious because the New York Times is quoting numerous Catholics who believe that the recent change to the Catechism will lead to more widespread rejection of capital punishment among Catholics. This certainly seems probable, but particularly so if Catholic opinion has already been following the opinion of its bishops and transitioning toward opposition.

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    Have you tried using library resources to search for publications answering these questions? If nothing comes up, have you written to Pew Research asking them to conduct surveys to answer these questions? Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 23:53

1 Answer 1


Source: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/stories/catholic-opinion-on-the-death-penalty

DPIC is a non-sectarian, non-profit organization. For the complete poll results of Catholic and non-Catholic respondents, see Catholics.pdf. For more information on the general poll results, see www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/pollresults.

The nationwide poll of 1,500 registered voters was conducted by Lake Research Partners in May, 2010. The number of Catholic respondents was 347, or 24% of those surveyed, approximately equal to the percent of Catholics in the general population.

In recent years, states that have abolished the death penalty have also had populations with a high percentage of Catholics (Illinois 30%; New Jersey 41%; New Mexico 25 %; and New York 37%). In some instances, Catholic political leaders, such as Gov. Pat Quinn in Illinois and Gov. Bill Richardson in New Mexico, played a prominent role in decision making on the death penalty. Although many factors play a role in legislative actions, a recent poll by Lake Research Partners on behalf of the Death Penalty Information Center indicated that Catholics were more disturbed about the problems of capital punishment and more supportive of alternative sentences than the general population.

  1. Only 24% of Catholics—compared to 33% of the general population—supported the death penalty when respondents were given a range of alternative punishments for murder. Fifty-eight percent (58%) supported some form of a life without parole sentence for such offenders.
  1. On a scale of 1-10, Catholics supported replacing the death penalty with life without parole by an average score of 6.8, compared to 5.6 nationally. Only 21% of Catholics were not supportive of this change (i.e., rated it 0-4).
  1. Thirty-three percent (33%) of Catholics would be less likely to support legislators who voted to bring back the death penalty, while only 28% would be more likely to support such a legislator. For both Catholics and the population at large, however, the most common response was that such a vote would make no difference in their support (Catholics: 36%; Nation: 43%).
  1. One of the reasons for Catholics’ discomfort with the death penalty was their moral beliefs. On a scale of 1-10, Catholics rated the statement “The death penalty is against my moral beliefs” at 5.9, compared to the national average of 4.7.
  1. Practical problems with the death penalty also loomed large for Catholic respondents. Catholics largely agreed with the statement: “The death penalty is a wasteful big government program because it costs a lot of money and it is not effective.” (5.6 agreement/10).
  1. The message that reverberated most strongly with Catholics was about the unfairness of the death penalty. Eighty-one percent (81%)—compared to 69% nationally—found the following statement convincing: Our criminal justice system should treat all people equally, regardless of how much money they make, where they live, or the color of their skin. In reality, the death penalty is applied unevenly and unfairly, even for similar crimes. Some people are sentenced to die because they couldn’t afford a better lawyer, or because they live in a county that seeks the death penalty a lot. A system that is so arbitrary should not be allowed to choose who lives and who dies.
  1. In terms of their politics, Catholics rated themselves as mostly moderate (36%) or conservative (36%), while a quarter identified themselves as liberal (25%).

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