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.”

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  1. Completely in favor: this is consistent with Catholic teaching on sacredness of ALL life. Yes, put bad people in prison for life, but the state should not be in the business of killing them… plus, they should have maximum amount of time to repent and be forgiven, not be condemned to Hell for their sins.

  2. I totally agree with the Pope. He is following in Christ’s footsteps, which is why I admire him so much. And why I’ve returned to the faith after 40+ years.

  3. I was disappointed by the EWTN people (who I normally admire) who rushed on to the airwaves to declare that Pope Francis was a heretic! There are some conservative members of the Church who want doctrine to be set in aspic, like books gathering dust on a shelf. Francis’s statement is saying out loud what the previous Popes were trying to say, within the conditions of their time. The condemnation of contraception and abortion will not change because they are intrinsically evil acts – capital punishment is a societal issue (like a soldier can kill in a just war) but modern conditions now allow it to be reasonable to ban it outright.

  4. The Church can not change moral doctrine that it has held for centuries without undermining its’ own authority; and the death penalty has always been allowed when there is no other choice.

    Other posters here are incorrect – Church doctrine is not fluid and subject to the whims of society. The Church protects the faith – it can not rewrite it whenever society insists. The Church should define societal morality and norms, not the other way around. The Church has always supported a society’s right to punish the most heinous crimes by death where there could always remain a threat to other innocent lives. And no, this has never been desired, or preferred – it is simply and acknowledgement that we live in a world where evil is real. God gave Israel the laws of the Torah (the old covenant) to build a nation that could worship Him and have boundaries for a stable society with an authority beyond human guesswork (aka, “social evolution”). Though the Church is not bound by those laws (not all of them), many are part of the Church’s interpretation of the 10 commandments, including the death penalty in severe cases where there is no other option.

    Pope Francis’ wording also creates yet another confusing and dangerous precedent that could be extended to any action that takes a life – police using deadly force, etc. It also uses language outside of the theological bases for Church doctrine in saying that the death penalty is “inadmissible”. The Church speaks in terms of right and wrong, moral and immoral – this term doesn’t fit into the moral language of the Church.

    Finally, lifetime incarceration is a 1st world western luxury of sorts, and the doctrine of the Church can not, and should not be based solely on 1st world social capabilities. It must be universal. I have heard that only 2% of the world could replace the death penalty with lifetime imprisonment, somewhat safely. There is no guarantee of that safety, even in the US as prison guards and other inmates have been killed by life-sentence convicts. Do those lives have no dignity? Does the dignity of a criminal supersede the lives of those he/she might kill after conviction, even while in prison? The assumption is that modern conditions (aka, 1st world) apply to everyone, but they don’t. This seems to be a Protestant influenced concept (i.e. that is what defined much of western theological thought on social issues, not Church doctrine).

    Those proposing that this is a right to life issue completely forget the history of the Church on this issue. There is no way to dignify violent murder. We can’t ignore evil simply because if feels good to appear “compassionate”. The wording of this change also makes it possible to eliminate self-defense, and even deadly force by police as “admissible”. Of course we would prefer conversion/reform to death, but we have to remember that evil exists, and people go to hell. We can’t look at life on this earth as the ultimate goal, or we risk idolizing ourselves rather than worshiping God. Yes, all life is precious – including the victims of violent criminals, but that part seems lost in some of these discussions.

  5. So what if another pope comes around and says death penalty is admissible? Do we just flip flop whatever the current pope declares? This is just one reason why I’m debating leaving the Catholic Church completely.


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