Pope Francis revises Catechism, teaches that death penalty is ‘inadmissible’

 Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has significantly revised the teaching on the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, declaring that “in the light of the Gospel” the death penalty “is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and stating that the church works “for its abolition worldwide.”

The Vatican announced this today when it released the new revised formulation of the Catechism teaching on the death penalty found at number 2267 of that text, in six different languages. It said this new formulation of the church’s teaching will replace the earlier one in the Catechism approved by St. John Paul II.

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When the Catechism was initially published in 1992, much to the dismay of many in the church, it still admitted the use of the death penalty. But strong reaction from bishops and the faithful in many countries led him to revise the text in 1997, with the help of Cardinal Ratzinger. The revised text, however, still did not exclude the death penalty on moral grounds as Pope Francis did today. Instead, it said that given the possibilities the modern state has of rendering the criminal incapable of doing harm again, then “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’”

Along with the revised text for the Catechism, the Vatican also released a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Catholic bishops of the world which explains and emphasizes at some length that the newly formulated teaching is “an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.” It states that “this development centers principally on the clearer awareness of the church for the respect due to every human life” and recalls that St. John Paul II declared that “not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.”

In full, the new text in the Catechism reads as follows:

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.

In the accompanying letter to bishops, the prefect and secretary of the C.D.F., Cardinal Luis Ladaria and Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, said that Pope Francis “asked that the teaching on the death penalty be reformulated so as to better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point that has taken place in recent times” and emphasized that “this development centers principally on the clearer awareness of the church for the respect due to every human life.”

Significantly, the letter goes at some length to underline how this revision is a “development” of the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and also reflects “the attitude towards the death penalty that is expressed ever more widely in the teaching of pastors and in the sensibility of the people of God.”

It says that while the political and social situation in the past may have made the death penalty acceptable, today, however, “the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes, the deepened understanding of the significance of penal sanctions applied by the state, and the development of more efficacious detention systems that guarantee the due protection of citizens have given rise to a new awareness that recognizes the inadmissibility of the death penalty and, therefore, calling for its abolition.”

In addition to the 1997 revision to the Catechism pointing out that cases of necessity for the death penalty were “practically non-existent,” St. John Paul II also intervened on other occasions against the death penalty, the letter says, “appealing both to respect for the dignity of the person as well as to the means that today’s society possesses to defend itself from criminals.” And when he visited the United States in January 1999, he said, “A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform” and called “for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”

In its letter, the C.D.F. pointed out that Benedict XVI, too, continued the push against the death penalty, when for instance, in November 2011, in his exhortation after the synod on Africa he called “the attention of society’s leaders to the need to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty.”

No matter how serious the crime that has been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.

Pope Francis has repeatedly taken a stance against the death penalty, culminating in his call in on Oct. 11, 2017, for a revision of the formulation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty in a manner that affirms that “no matter how serious the crime that has been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”

The C.D.F. letter concludes saying this development of doctrine “grew ‘in the light of the Gospel,’” and that “the Gospel invites us to the mercy and patience of the Lord that gives to each person the time to convert oneself.”

Finally, the letter says that with this new formulation, the church “desires to give energy to a movement towards a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.”

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J Cosgrove
2 months 2 weeks ago

I am against the death penalty and wrote a paper advocating the end of it in college. My Jesuit instructor handed me my head based on faulty reasoning and traditional Church and Jesuit teaching.

Question? What if the failure to execute someone causes deaths? I am not talking about the typical homicidal criminal but maybe a political figure that may cause riots and deaths in attempt to release the person.

Briana Maund
2 months 2 weeks ago

I think the Gospel is pretty clear on this. Despite believing he deserved to go free, Pontius Pilate executes Jesus so as not to incite a riot, which was obviously a moral evil.

Elle Salmon
2 months 2 weeks ago

In earlier remarks on this subject, Pope Francis observed that the situation was different in the past, when there was a significant risk that an incarcerated offender might escape or eventually be released, and murder again. In those situations, an obligation to protect society from harm was present. Today in the U.S., the same situation does not obtain and society can be kept safe from incarcerated persons.

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

Not always: a mafia figure or a major political conspirator can, from inside a prison, incite further violence or further treasonous activity against the state. In those circumstances--and only in those circumstances--capital punishment might be justified under this new teaching.

Tim O'Leary
2 months 2 weeks ago

J - I am glad to see that Pope Francis continued to use the prudential ("today..more effective systems of detention...due protection of citizens) wording. Not many people know that Cardinal McCarrick, in July 2004, had a role in blocking a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to the US bishops regarding the prudential nature of opposition to capital punishment vs. the principled ("intrinsically wrong") objection to abortion and other modern proclivities. This is how a lobby within the Church works - blocking communications they oppose, promulgating and emphasizing what they advocate - just like an NGO or the media.

Here is an except from that letter: "3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia." https://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfworthycom.htm

Tim O'Leary
2 months 2 weeks ago

Here is an except from the letter McCarrick tried to bury in 2004: "3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia." https://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfworthycom.htm

Vincent Couling
2 months 2 weeks ago

And now we wait patiently in hopeful expectation for the development of the teaching on homosexuality, and for the catechism to be edited so that it is finally free of the evil idea that homosexual acts are always and everywhere intrinsically disordered, and that under no circumstances can they be approved. Calling the homosexual orientation objectively disordered and homosexual love relationships intrinsically evil has led to the rampant damage of the psyches of countless gay Catholics, many of whom have resorted to suicide as a way out (see, for example, the compelling personal testimony from a devout Catholic posted here https://medium.com/reaching-out/gay-and-catholic-30f7755a4726 ). As of 2017, 73 countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality ... in some instances, the punishment for same-sex relationships or identifying as gay is death! A Vatican revision would have a profound impact entirely consonant with the Gospel values of Jesus Christ.

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

Agreed absolutely, but that might not preclude enjoining "same-sex-attracted" Catholics to maintain CHASTITY (and not, necessarily celibacy), as the best way to love and serve Jesus Christ. "Sin," in this, and in many other similar situations, should be described as what is not "skillful" in developing a deep spiritual communion with the Creator and obedience to His wishes. Such "sins" should be described, to use the traditional language of the Church, as "venial," rather than "mortal."

Hector Acevedo
2 months 2 weeks ago

You will be waiting forever on that...Homosexual acts were are and will always and everywhere be intrinsically disordered, and that under no circumstances can they be approved. Thanks be to God. #CatholicMeToo.

James Haraldson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Do you bother counting all the suicides of gays who know in their hearts that their condition is disordered and that their acting on it promiscuously has caused a justifiable self-loathing for which they are not getting help thanks to the propaganda that seeks to normalize the disorder?

Tim O'Leary
2 months 2 weeks ago

And now we wait patiently in hopeful expectation for the development of the teaching on money, and for the catechism to be edited to remove the obligation to care for the poor, so the rich can live more in peace with their wealth and not have their consciences wrecked with guilt.

Christopher Lochner
2 months 2 weeks ago

What a great time to be Catholic. Mercy, Forgiveness, Dignity, can't argue with this can we? Sin? Well, why not, since it's about the Gospel and Mercy, oh, sorry, shhh, can't mention sin. ( Have to rewrite the cathecism and the Gospel.) I've always wondered how people I know can do dastardly things. But, it's acceptable in light of Mercy and Love. You might refer to this as the theology of Jesus-lite. The operative sense is just to do SOMETHING, anything, because you'll be forgiven. Is it better to be a rich sinner or a poor saint? Modern Catholic teaching would certainly promote the idea of the rich sinner.
It's always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission; we even have truisms to provide wiggle room for our endeavors. Yeah, the personal dignity of suicide squads from around the world. Sure. The dignity of gang murderers so forgive and give a hug. Whatever it takes to win; go for it. Does anyone really think this is what Jesus would say? Oops, a Saint would. I must be in error and an earthly Utopia is nigh as sin has been replaced with Mercy. And I'm not supporting the death penalty but, again, Francis and his naivete are discouraging. But he is very powerful so he must be correct. QED.

Lonnie Barone
2 months 2 weeks ago

Christopher, you noticed, didn’t you, that the revision, far from failing to mention sin, designated capital punishment as a sin itself. That was the point of the new teaching.

Christopher Lochner
2 months 2 weeks ago

Yes, but, Francis also claims life without parole is wrong as are life sentences and even long term incarceration. Most people would oppose the death penalty if the alternative was life. He is opposed to this. If he stopped at the repudiation of the death penalty this might be acceptable but , as is Francis, he doesnt. I'm uncertain as to whether he is not thinking the situation through or is paying far too much heed to his advisors, probably the latter. And, a real world query, what would you like do with someone who kills a guard or prisoner while already serving since even solitary confinement is sinful?

Toby Gillis
2 months 2 weeks ago

How wonderfully catholic! Declare the spoken law of God to now be sin........

Vince Killoran
2 months 2 weeks ago

Long overdue. The range of the permissibility has been quite narrow in recent decades anyways but it's good to see this definitive statement.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

So he can change the catechism and church teaching on the death penalty because times and our understanding have changed, but he *can't* change the teaching on women priests, on LGBT relationships, on contraception, on divorce? Come on.

patrick.cullen@live.com
2 months 2 weeks ago

Because contraception, divorce, same sex marriage, same sex relations...those are morally wrong and sinful. It really isn't that hard to understand is it?

Robin Smith
2 months 2 weeks ago

Speaking as a Jewish Atheist, I'm pretty sure the message Jesus tried to spread was "love one another, be responsible & be kind." That is all.

Hector Acevedo
2 months 2 weeks ago

PLease don't leave out that Jesus also told those to not remain in sin.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

But Jesys didn't mention sin in connection with women priests, abortion, marriage equality, contraception, married priests, etc. The only people that seemed to really piss Jesus off were religious leaders who made up harsh rules no one could follow.

James Haraldson
2 months 2 weeks ago

You obviously don't know anything about Jesus. First you have no way of knowing what Jesus said or didn't say on such matters, do you? Were you there? Second, If He didn't, it wasn't necessary to condemn every self-evident evil that flows from a mind as self-worshiping as yours, a mind that would trivialize the crushing of skulls of babies. And one has to be a super dummy to not distinguish between moral laws, which He insisted must never be transgressed, and the treating of ritual laws as displacing moral laws which is what He condemned. Got it?

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Christianity is based on the NT and what Jesus said and did in the NT. You may wish to put words in Jesus' mouth about social issues like women priests, contraception, marriage equality, but there's no basis for that other than your imagination and your bias.

Rob Simbeck
2 months 2 weeks ago

Why, if the Catholic church has been tuned in to God for all these years, hasn't it figured this one out before?

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

Because it's a human and fallible institution, which has only the prerogative of being "inerrant" through the time-space continuum that human beings must, perforcedly, occupy, that's why; it took us centuries to understand that slavery is also condemned by that "Word of God," who is the only absolutely infallible voice in the entirety of the New Testament. Your right-wing Catholics really need to read John Henry Newman's "Development of Christian Doctrine."

Ellen B
2 months 2 weeks ago

Because they decided to align themselves politically & they needed to cover this inconsistency.

Rob Simbeck
2 months 2 weeks ago

.

Rob Simbeck
2 months 2 weeks ago

.

William Bannon
2 months 2 weeks ago

Nothing in Catholicism is more defective than these last three Popes on the delusion of advanced prisons. The two largest Catholic countries are Brazil and Mexico, non death penalty, and the highest rates of murder of any large countries on earth. Their prisons are famous for being escapable and murder filled. Brazil had 55,000 murders in 2016, Mexico 31,000 in 2017. Brazil has 207 million people, Mexico has 127 million. Both are non death penalty. China, death penalty, has 1.379 billion people and only 11,000 murders a year. She is three times the population of the two largest Catholic countries and she has 11,000 murders to their 86,000 murders...per year. Nothing is dumber than this within Catholic history. These three recent Popes did absolutely no data comparisons. Europe is mildly affluent pervasively so it has few murders with or without the death penalty. But where the poor are in the tens of millions, executions saves tens of thousands of victim lives yearly....Latin America vs. Asia. Christian Latin America is roughly 15 times more murderous than non Christian Asia...which is death penalty dominant and unconsciously obeying Romans 13:4 whereas execution is rare in Latin America.

Robin Smith
2 months 2 weeks ago

I think, hope, the Pope was coming from a loving heart, not a political mind. But it's good to see you use facts even if they are misapplied.

William Bannon
2 months 2 weeks ago

“To your gift, add no harsh word”...Old Testament. If you’re doing it to me, you’re doing it to many. Let her who has ears to hear, listen and penetrate.

Vince Killoran
2 months 2 weeks ago

The states in the USA that do not have the death penalty have the lowest murder rates.

William Bannon
2 months 2 weeks ago

Vince...each state has different percentages of blacks. They are 13% of the population and are doing 50% of the murders. New Hampshire has no death penalty and almost no blacks. There are wonderful blacks and I worked with one in education whose drums for her son were burglarized four times while she and her husband worked all day....by criminal sloth blacks.
Search on youtube for Kevin Hart Niggas in which a black comedian distinguishes between blacks and criminal blacks. He can say it...you can’t.
Further the USA has death penalties with ten years of appeals. Imagine if you told an ornery son that you would ground him in ten years. He’d have zero healthy fear of you. China executes very soon. They have cut back yearly on the reasons as they should. They had over 70 offense that got the death penalty. They have cut back there. Their murder rate with hundreds of millions of poor is point 67 whereas Brazil is 26 ...per 100,000....Mexico 17....China point 67.
China with millions of poor people is safer than almost all Catholic countries except affluent ones like Monaco which has no poor.

Hector Acevedo
2 months 2 weeks ago

We don't have the death penalty in Illinois....but we do have the City of Chicago...your logic is flawed.

William Bannon
2 months 2 weeks ago

And Chicago has a high murder rate...that is my logic. If China magically took over Chicago, the murder rate would drop like a stone..

Vince Killoran
2 months 2 weeks ago

So your argument that black and brown people having a greater propensity to murder?! It seems that you are asserting that it is "in their nature."

As for China's approach to crime, have you considered the government's use of the death penalty imposed for lesser crimes? Is that acceptable? In fact, if you examine the larger approach to social order then you must consider the millions who died in the past 75 years due to that government's authoritarian "planning."

William Bannon
2 months 2 weeks ago

LOL....my post undoes your two points.

Dr Robert Dyson
2 months 2 weeks ago

I am happy to applaud HH's decision. Would that he were always so unambiguous.

Robert Lewis
2 months 2 weeks ago

No other Christian denomination has the authority, directly formulated in the "Petrine Commission" ("binding" and "loosing") to "develop" doctrine in this way. This is a true use of the Catholic and Apostolic Church's prerogative to refine teachings of moral theology--something that I'm sure that the Catholic fundamentalists who will protest this new teaching do not understand. (Which means that they actually do not understand the uniqueness of the ecclesial theology of their own Church.) I, however, welcome this development as a closer alignment to what is preached by Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

Beth Cioffoletti
2 months 2 weeks ago

For more than 25 years I have stood on street corners while the State of Florida kills the condemned. For the last few years we have stood before the local Cathedral. There are never more than 7 or 8 of us, and as people from the parish leave the 5:30pm Mass, they look at us with confusion. They don't have any idea why we are there. I have always said that when the Catholic Church really gets behind this issue, the killing will end in the United States. Francis has brought us closer to that day.

Ellen B
2 months 2 weeks ago

Good. You can't claim to be "pro life" and then be "pro death".

Henry George
2 months 2 weeks ago

Suppose your robbed a bank and were later caught that day with the money
in your possession, we would expect that money to be returned to the bank
as a matter of Justice.

Suppose you robbed a person of a significant sum of money, you were not caught
until you had spent it all, after your time in prison, would it not be a matter of
Justice that you then pay that person back as best you can ?

I know someone who was shot in the head by a robber who had already shot her manager.
This man went on to kill two more strangers that day.
She cannot see, she can barely hear, she is bed ridden in the most sordid facility.
She has been there now for 30 years.
Meanwhile, he sits on death row knowing that he will never be executed getting three meals
a day, a bed, shelter while others go homeless and without food.

How is that Justice ?

What do you do with the Prisoner who kills in Prison, who has outsiders kill
those who would testify, or did testify against him ?

What do you do with a Political/Terrorist leaders that still tells his followers to
kill ?

If the Death Penalty is wrong, what should police officers do when a suspect threatens
to kill them, or flees after killing someone else, can they shoot him, or is that no longer allowed as it might kill him ?

What do we do with the words of the repentant robber who spoke to Jesus while
they were on their crosses, he says he deserved his punishment, Jesus did not contradict him.

Jim MacGregor
2 months 2 weeks ago

Why don’t we send the Pope a want list of changes to definitions of morality that the World would agree with? That way we could gut our Christian beliefs quicker than waiting a few hundred years.

arthur mccaffrey
2 months 2 weeks ago

what really bugs me about the Pope and the Catholic Church is the
enormous discrepancy between theory and practice. If the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the dignity of the person, what about child abuse? what about the child's dignity? Has the Catechism of the Catholic Church been revised to reflect the inadmissibility of attacking children? If not, why not? Until that question is answered, then all the rest of this theoretical esoterica is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

It is quite a big change - the Papal States executed a lot of people back in the day. I don't understand though why Francis says he can change this teaching but not others, like the one on women priests. Meanwhile the news is full of clergy sex abuse stories, and there are no changes to the church to deal with that problem.

Jim MacGregor
2 months 2 weeks ago

You have understood as I have. This article, if true, makes us want to look elsewhere for spiritual leadership that is neither miguided (as Pope Francis is) nor arrogant (as the office he holds has become).

arthur mccaffrey
2 months 2 weeks ago

when you are a "leader" and you want to give the illusion of change, you pick the low hanging fruit--like the death penalty, which affects a few people already incarcerated, out of the mainstream. When it comes to women priests and child abuse, which affects the entire Catholic population and the rest of society, that requires real courage and a drastic reordering of priorities----not gonna happen-- tradition trumps innovation every time.

Susan Liang
2 months 2 weeks ago

Respect for human life, for human boundaries includes government on earth which God created for the good of mankind. Part of good government is justice, and the latter includes just penalties.

The death penalty should be reserved for crimes such as child sexual abuse because it destroys the entire life of the child, for genocide, for mass murder, for the aggressive use of weapons of mass destruction. Hermann Goering surely deserved the death penalty for authorizing the murder of millions.

How is giving someone a pass for such crimes respectful of human boundaries, rather than encouraging the invasion of them?

It is clear to me that giving a pass to pedophiles in the church encouraged them to keep destroying the lives of more children. A life of penance and prayer isn't going to prevent child rape.

This is not the Garden of Eden, and we are not Edenic minded creatures.

Are we through government not to protect the innocent? If not then what is the purpose of government? Harsh words did not protect the raped children in the Church from priests and Bishops.

Vincent Gaglione
2 months 2 weeks ago

So the death penalty, like abortion, is verboten. The catechism is revised to reflect a consistency of position on the inviolability of the dignity of human life.

There are other Christian believers, believers of other faiths, and non-believers who do not share our understandings. Do we have the right to insist that this prohibition be national law?

That is the perspective of how I view the anti-abortion movement as well.

On both issues there are many Catholics who disagree with these Catholic teachings. On both issues there are many Catholics who agree with these Catholic teachings but do not believe that they must be installed in civil law in a pluralistic society. I would much prefer that we Catholics spent our evangelizing efforts on convincing our own members before we hurry to change national law for everyone else as well as ourselves!

Mike Fitzpatrick
2 months 2 weeks ago

It is interesting to me that during the Prayr of the Faithful, at my parish, we pray for respect for life at all stages and for the abolition of the death penalty. There is no mention of the abolition of abortion.

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