Pope Francis is taking a clear and bold stance against the death penalty, declaring it “inadmissible” in every case.
On Thursday, the Vatican announced the pontiff approved a change to the Catechism, a guide for official Church teaching on topics ranging from religious sacraments to marriage and sexuality. Before the change, the Catechism wasn’t at odds with the death penalty “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
But under the guidance of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church is abandoning such nuance. Instead, the Catechism will state, “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” noting the Catholic Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
The updated Catechism will read:
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.
According to Crux, the pope has been formulating his opinion on capital punishment for some time. In October 2017, marking the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism, the pontiff asked for the Church’s teaching on the death penalty to “better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point.”
Pope Francis said at the time that capital punishment “heavily wounds human dignity,” describing the process as an “inhuman measure.”
“It is, in itself, contrary to the gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor,” he explained.
While the changes were not announced until this week, the Catholic leader authorized them in May. It should be noted, too, that the revised teachings on capital punishment are, according to the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, not a contradiction of prior declarations but rather a sign of evolution on the topic in light of factors such as modern technological advances, which have rendered capital punishment largely unnecessary.