On Aug. 2, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, S.J., prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, announced that Pope Francis has significantly revised the teaching on the death penalty as it is formulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The revision declares that the death penalty “is inadmissible”—no matter how serious the offense the person has committed—“because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
Previously, a passage of the catechism (No. 2267) allowed for the death penalty in rare cases, and while popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had both strongly opposed its use, both stopped short of declaring the death penalty “inadmissible.” Pope Francis indicated last October that this development in church teaching was coming, when he said the death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel.” The catechism now says of the death penalty that we must work “for its abolition worldwide.”
Both the U.S. bishops and the editors of America have long called for the abolition of the death penalty in the United States. The unborn and the condemned have the same right to life, and all citizens, especially Catholics, have a duty to defend that right.
This new revision should prompt Catholics who have opposed abortion on the grounds of human dignity but supported the death penalty as a matter of “prudential judgment” to reconsider their views. Both abortion and the death penalty violently negate the inherent dignity of every human being.