A closer look at the revised teaching of the Catechism on capital punishment

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On August 2, 2018, the Vatican announced that it had formally amended the official Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, qualifying the death penalty as “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and deeming it “inadmissible” in all cases. .

08 Oct 2021

On August 2, 2018, the Vatican announced that it had formally amended the official Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, qualifying the death penalty as “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and deeming it “inadmissible” in all cases. . This reflects the Church’s enormous insistence on respect for human life. It reflects the deep hope that no one is beyond God’s mercy, and that there is always a chance for repentance, even for those convicted of capital crimes. Indeed, it stipulates that “the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes”.

The new text
2267. The use of the death penalty by the legitimate authority, following a fair trial, has long been considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding human rights. common good.

Today, however, there is a growing 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 importance of state-imposed criminal sanctions. Finally, more effective detention systems have been developed, which ensure the fair 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 the dignity of the person”,

[1] and it works with determination for its abolition all over the world ”. [1] FRANÇOIS, Address to the participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, October 11, 2017: L’Osservatore Romano, October 13, 2017.

The previous text
According to the previous text of paragraph 2267, the Church did not exclude the use of the death penalty in “very rare, if not practically non-existent” circumstances:

2267. Assuming that the identity and responsibility of the culprit are fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude the use of the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending lives. human rights against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect the security of persons against the aggressor, the authority will be limited to such means, because they are more in conformity with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the person. human.

Today, in fact, because of the possibilities that the State has of effectively preventing crime, by rendering those who have committed an offense incapable of causing harm – without permanently removing the possibility of redeeming themselves – the cases where the The execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “is very rare, if not practically non-existent”.

Revision in continuity with the previous Magisterium
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained that the revision of n. 2267 of the CCC “expresses an authentic development of the doctrine which is not in contradiction with the previous teachings of the Magisterium” and declared that “these teachings, in fact, can be explained in the light of the primary responsibility of the authority. public to protect the common good. well in a social context where criminal sanctions were understood differently, and had developed in an environment where it was more difficult to guarantee that the criminal could not repeat his crime ”.

Pope John Paul II’s call for the abolition of the death penalty
Pope John Paul II had asked that the teaching on the death penalty be reformulated to better reflect the development of the doctrine which centers on a clearer conscience of the Church for the respect due to all human life, affirming that “Even a murderer does not lose his personal dignity, and God himself is committed to ensuring that. On several occasions, John Paul II intervened for the elimination of the death penalty, calling it “cruel and unnecessary.

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI had called “the attention of the leaders of society to the need to do everything possible to eliminate the death penalty” and encouraged “the political and legislative initiatives promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty. death penalty and continue to make progress in bringing criminal law into line with both the human dignity of detainees and the effective maintenance of public order.

Responsibility of the authorities to defend the lives of citizens
The new revision of number 2267 of the CEC, approved by Pope Francis, follows on from the previous Magisterium while bringing out a coherent development of Catholic doctrine, “taking into account the new understanding of penal sanctions applied by the State. modern ”. Its new revision “wishes to energize a movement towards a decisive commitment to foster a mentality which recognizes the dignity of all human life and, in a respectful dialogue with the civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions allowing the elimination of the death. penalty where it is still in effect ”. – Vatican News (Adapted)


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