The Vatican announced that Pope Francis promulgated a change to the Catechism to reflect that the Church now teaches that the death penalty is “inadmissible.”
The Vatican announced the change last Thursday, accompanied by a letter penned by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The letter states that the change to the Catechism is “in continuity with the preceding Magisterium while bringing forth a coherent development of Catholic doctrine.”
CCC 2267 now reads:
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.
The previous Church teaching permitted the death penalty only “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” a position upheld by past popes, although Pope Saint John Paul II began an urge to end capital punishment. Cardinal Ladaria cites Paul II’s stance in his letter:
“The new text, following the footsteps of the teaching of John Paul II in Evangelium vitæ, affirms that ending the life of a criminal as punishment for a crime is inadmissible because it attacks the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crime.”
The new teaching recognizes that there a new ways to protect the common good, and that the Church will commit itself to abolishing the death penalty worldwide.
“This conclusion is reached taking into account the new understanding of penal sanctions applied by the modern State, which should be oriented above all to the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the criminal. Finally, given that modern society possesses more efficient detention systems, the death penalty becomes unnecessary as protection for the life of innocent people.”