Father Knows Best: Parishes, Priests, and American Catholic Parishioners' Attitudes Toward Capital Punishment



Public opinion has important implications for capital punishment in the United States. Such opinion formation involves moral judgments irreducible to processing information on the administration of capital punishment or sentencing alternatives. Religious communities play a crucial role in resolving such moral dilemmas and giving meaning to available information. The Catholic Church strongly opposes capital punishment and strives to instruct lay Catholics on this issue. Accordingly, church attendance is associated with less support of the death penalty among Catholics but not among non-Catholics in the general population. Politically and socially conservative Catholic parishioners are more supportive of such punishment, while more religious parishioners report less such support. Parish priests significantly influence death penalty attitudes, in particular among more spiritual parishioners. Black Catholics are more supportive of the death penalty than their non-Catholic counterparts, in part because of a convergence in death penalty attitudes between blacks and whites in predominantly black parishes.