Pope Francis Amends Catechism, Declares Capital Punishment ‘Inadmissible’

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

On Thursday, Pope Francis decreed the death penalty is "inadmissible" under all circumstances, and that the Roman Catholic Church must work to abolish it, changing official church teaching to reflect his view that all life is sacred and there is no justification for state-sponsored executions.

Recourse to the death penalty, following a fair trial, had always been "an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good", the new catechism says. States, he added, now have more effective systems of detention, "which exclude the danger and trauma of violence being done to innocent people" and allow for the possibility of a guilty person's conversion and redemption.

Pope Francis, shown here in May, has previously spoken out against the death penalty.

The change was announced Thursday with the release of a letter to bishops that said the change stemmed from a new understanding of modern punishment, which should aim to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes, report the National Catholic Reporter, the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today and the Associated Press.

His successor, Benedict XVI, in a document published in November 2011, called on society's leaders "to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty".

However, human rights organisation Amnesty International recorded at least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries and almost 1,000 executions in 2017 alone.

The death penalty is still legal in 53 countries around the world.




"In defending the abolition of the death penalty, one does not forget the suffering of the victims involved, nor the injustice that has been perpetrated".

Pope Francis requested the change to the catechism's section on the death penalty in October 2017, during a speech at the Vatican commemorating the 25th anniversary of the catechism's creation.

At the same time, the original version of the catechism still urged the use of "bloodless means" when possible to punish criminals and protect citizens. "That is not being taken away here, but they can do that in other ways".

He mentioned it when appearing before Congress in 2015, telling legislators that "from the beginning of my ministry" he had been led "to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty".

Last year, there were "993 executions in 23 countries", according to Amnesty International. The Catholic Church had already held that the death penalty was forbidden except in specific cases when public safety was a concern.

In the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, public support for the death penalty has ticked up slightly since hitting a four-decade low in 2016, with 54 percent now approving of the punishment for those convicted of murder.

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