Pope Francis revises catechism and teaches that the death penalty is “unacceptable”

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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 declaring that the church is working“ for its abolition throughout the world ”.

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

When the Catechism was first published in 1992, much to the dismay of many in the church, it still admitted the use of the death penalty. But the strong reaction of the bishops and the faithful of many countries led him to revise the text in 1997, with the help of Cardinal Ratzinger. The revised text, however, still did not rule out the death penalty on moral grounds as Pope Francis has today. Instead, he said that given the possibilities that 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, even practically non-existent “.”

Along with the revised text of the Catechism, the Vatican has also published a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Catholic Bishops around the world which explains and underlines at some length that the newly formulated teaching is “an authentic development of the doctrine that no. is not in contradiction with the previous teachings of the Magisterium. She specifies that “this development is centered mainly on the clearer awareness of the Church of the respect due to all human life” and recalls that Saint John Paul II declared that “even a murderer does not lose his personal dignity, and God itself undertakes to guarantee this. “

In its entirety, the new text of the Catechism reads as follows:

The use of the death penalty by the legitimate authority, after a fair trial, has long been considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain offenses and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the 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 permanently 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”, and she works with determination for its abolition. in the whole world.

In the covering letter to the bishops, the prefect and secretary of the CDF, Cardinal Luis Ladaria and Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, said that Pope Francis “called for the teaching on the death penalty to be reformulated in order to better reflect the evolution of doctrine on this subject. point that has taken place in recent times ”and underlined that“ this development focuses mainly on the clearer awareness of the Church for the respect due to all human life ”.

Significantly, the letter underlines at some length how this revision is a “development” of the teaching of John Paul II and of Benedict XVI, and also reflects “the attitude towards the death penalty which is expressed moreover. and more widely in the teaching of pastors. and in the sensitivity of the people of God.

He says that while the political and social situation in the past may have made the death penalty acceptable, today, however, “the growing understanding that a person’s dignity is not lost even after committing the crimes. most serious crimes, the deep understanding of the importance of state criminal sanctions, and the development of more effective detention systems that ensure the fair protection of citizens have brought about a new awareness that recognizes the inadmissibility of the death penalty and, therefore, calls for its abolition.

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

In his letter, the CDF underlined that Benedict XVI also continued the fight against the death penalty, when for example, in November 2011, in his exhortation after the synod on Africa, he called “the attention of the leaders of society on the need to do everything to eliminate the death penalty.

Whatever the gravity of the crime committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it violates the inviolability and dignity of the person.

Pope Francis has repeatedly taken a stand against the death penalty, culminating in his call on October 11, 2017, for a revision of the wording of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty in a way that affirms that “regardless of the gravity of the crime committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it violates the inviolability and dignity of the person.

The letter of the CDF concludes by saying that this development of the doctrine “has grown” in the light of the Gospel “” and that “the Gospel invites us to the mercy and the patience of the Lord who gives each one the time to to convert “.

Finally, the letter says that with this new formulation, the Church “wishes to energize a movement towards a decisive commitment to foster a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in a respectful dialogue with the authorities civilians, encourage the creation of conditions allowing the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in force.


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