Pope rules out death penalty in change to church teaching
Pope Francis has decreed that the death penalty is “inadmissible” under all circumstances and the Catholic Church should campaign to abolish it, a change in church teaching that could influence Catholic politicians and judges across the globe.
The change, announced Thursday, was hailed by anti-death-penalty activists and scorned by Francis’ frequent conservative critics, who said he had no right to change what Scripture revealed and popes have taught for centuries.
The Vatican said that Francis had amended the Catechism of the Catholic Church – the compilation of official Catholic teaching – to say that capital punishment can never be sanctioned because it constitutes an “attack” on the dignity of human beings.
Previously, the catechism said the church didn’t exclude recourse to capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” Past popes have upheld that position, though St. John Paul II began urging an end to the practice and stressed that the guilty were just as deserving of dignity as innocents.
The new teaching says the previous policy is outdated because there are new ways to protect the common good, and the church should instead commit itself to working to end capital punishment.
The death penalty has been abolished in most of Europe and South America, but it is still in use in the United States and in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This week Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the death penalty could soon be reinstated in Turkey, where it was abolished in 2004 as part of its bid to join the European Union.
Within hours of Thursday’s announcement, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to introduce legislation to remove the death penalty from New York state law.