Pope Francis has officially changed the text of the Catechism, saying that the use of the death penalty in today’s world is now “inadmissible.’
The previous teaching, given by Pope St. John Paul II, had said situations in which the death penalty was necessary were “very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”
Here is the new text (we have bolded key lines):
“The death penalty
“2267. 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”.
“ FRANCIS, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, 13 October 2017.”
Here is the old text:
“2267. Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, 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.
“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.‘”
CDF explains the change
In a Letter to the Bishops, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria explains that the change to the Catechism “expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.” He points to the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, showing their similarity.
He concludes by saying Pope Francis making the Catholic Church’s position more clear is intended to “give energy to [the] movement” working to abolish the death penalty around the entire world.
You can read the full Vatican News report here.