Emeritus Pope Benedict the XVI, in a letter to the Cardinal McCarrick in 2004 when he was merely His Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger and prefect of the CDF, made it very clear that the death penalty was not an intrinsic evil and ought not be depicted as one. Indeed, he made clear that regarding the death penalty, questions of war and peace, and so on, laymen had a just claim to exercise their prudential judgment and that disagreement among Catholics on such issues ought not be compared to dissent on matters such as abortion and euthanasia.The letter of then-Cardinal Ratzinger may be found here. To quote it:
"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."