Pope Francis has authorized a change to the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) that reflects the position that the death penalty is inadmissible and calling for its world-wide abolition.
For many centuries, the position of the Church was that the death penalty was justified on the grounds that, in extreme cases, it represented the only way legitimate civil authorities could carry out their duty to protect the community at large from dangerous criminals.
Pope St. John Paul II took the occasion several times to condemn the death penalty as “an unworthy punishment” and “cruel and unnecessary.” The current text of the CCC reads: “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” while reflecting the teaching of St. John Paul in his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life) that “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'”
Pope Benedict XVI also condemned the death penalty and, like his predecessor, called for its abolition and often appealed for clemency for inmates condemned to death.
In a speech at the Vatican last October, Pope Francis asked that the text of the CCC be changed to reflect the position that the death penalty “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.”
As such, paragraph 2267 of the CCC will now 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,” the new section continues.
“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.”
Let us pray for the victims of murderous criminals, that their hearts will not be turned toward revenge and a false sense of justice. Pray for the murderers, for their conversion to Christ.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.