On Thursday, Pope Francis declared the death penalty to be inadmissible in the Catholic Church, stating that “every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
Although he has previously made his opinion on the issue clear, the Vatican is now going to have greater, long-term impact by making an official change to the Catholic Church’s teaching manual. For centuries the Catechism has specified that the decision to execute an offender was permissible solely in cases of “absolute necessity,” in which “ the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
The new edit implies that there are now a plethora of other options to protect society, including “more effective systems of detention.” Therefore, “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.”
According to Amnesty International, there were at least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries in 2017.
Seeing a further reduction in that number has been key among the Pope’s goals—one which he has also implicitly tied to his stance opposing abortion. In a letter addressed to the President of the International Commission in 2015, Pope Francis claimed the death penalty “does not render justice to the victims, but rather foments revenge.” Per the New York Times:
Abolishing the death penalty has been one of Francis’ top priorities for many years, along with saving the environment and caring for immigrants and refugees. He mentioned it in his address to Congress on his trip to the United States in 2015, saying that “from the beginning of my ministry” he had been led “to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.”
He added, “I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
Pope Francis approved a letter to bishops announcing the shift in June.