VATICAN CITY – Based on the development of the teaching of the Catholic Church against the death penalty, Pope Francis ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to affirm that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on inviolability and dignity of the person âand to commit the church to work for its abolition throughout the world.
The paragraph of the Catechism on the death penalty, 2267, had already been updated by Saint John Paul II in 1997 to reinforce his skepticism about the need to use the death penalty in the modern world and, in particular, to affirm the importance of protecting all human life. .
Announcing the change on August 2, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared: âThe new text, following in the footsteps of the teaching of John Paul II in ‘Evangelium Vitae’, affirms that ending the life of a criminal as a punishment for a crime is inadmissible because it undermines the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes.
“Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”) was Saint John Paul’s 1995 encyclical letter on the dignity and sacredness of all human life. The encyclical led to an update of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which it originally promulgated in 1992 and which recognized “the right and duty of the legitimate public authority to punish wrongdoers with penalties proportionate to the law. the seriousness of the crime, without excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.
At the same time, the original version of the catechism still advocated the use of âbloodless meansâ where possible to punish criminals and protect citizens.
The catechism will now read: âThe 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 crimes and a means acceptable, albeit extreme, to safeguard 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 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, âcontinues the new section.
The modification made to the text by Pope Francis concludes: “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 is working with determination for its abolition around the world.”
In his statement, Cardinal Ladaria noted how Saint John Paul, retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have all spoken out against the death penalty and asked for clemency for those sentenced to death on numerous occasions.
The development of church doctrine, far from viewing the death penalty as perhaps a legitimate punishment for the most serious crimes, the cardinal said, “focuses primarily on the church’s clearer awareness for the respect due to all human life. In this sense, John Paul II affirmed: “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself is committed to guarantee it.”
Pope Francis specifically called for the catechism to be changed in October during a Vatican address commemorating the 25th anniversary of the text’s promulgation.
The death penalty, however it is carried out, he had said, “is in itself contrary to the Gospel, for a decision is made voluntarily to suppress human life, which is always sacred in the eyes. of the Creator and of which, in the final analysis, only God can be the true judge and surety. “
Cardinal Ladaria also noted that the popes were not the only Catholics to become increasingly aware of how the modern use of the death penalty conflicts with the Church’s teaching on dignity. of human life; the same position, he said, has been “ever more widely expressed in the teaching of pastors and in the sensitivity of the people of God.”
In particular, he said, Catholic opposition to the death penalty is based on an “understanding that a person’s dignity is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes,” an understanding deeper than criminal sanctions should aim at rehabilitation of the person and a recognition that governments have the capacity to effectively detain criminals, thereby protecting their citizens.
The cardinal’s note also cited a letter written by Pope Francis in 2015 to the International Commission against the Death Penalty. In the letter, the Pope called the death penalty “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and said it “does not bring justice to the victims, but only encourages revenge”.
Moreover, in a “modern state of law, the death penalty represents a failure” because it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice, the Pope wrote. On the other hand, he said, it is a method frequently used by “totalitarian regimes and fanatic groups” to get rid of “political dissidents, minorities” and anyone else considered to be. a threat to their power and their goals.
In addition, Pope Francis noted that “human justice is imperfect” and declared that the death penalty loses all legitimacy in criminal systems where miscarriage of justice is possible.
âThe new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, declared Cardinal Ladaria, wants to give energy to a movement towards a decisive commitment to foster a mentality that recognizes the dignity of all human life and, in a respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions permitting the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in force.