Pope Francis changes capital punishment teaching, now finds death penalty 'inadmissible'

Pope Francis leads the general audience at the Paul VI Hall in Vatican 1 August 2018. Max Rossi Reuters

Pope Francis leads the general audience at the Paul VI Hall in Vatican 1 August 2018. Max Rossi Reuters

He also cited John Paul II who taught that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes.

Francis has long opposed the death penalty, saying that the execution of a human being is fundamentally against the teachings of Christ because, by definition, it excludes the possibility of redemption.

Previously, the church has supported the death penalty for "certain crimes" in the belief that it is sometimes necessary to put a convicted criminal to death "to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor".

"And, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect".

For his part, Pope Francis has called capital punishment "unacceptable", insisting that whatever its form, it entails "cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment".

The change to the Catechism, the theologian said, was part of the "third level" of magisterial teaching, being "non-definitive" (not declared as divinely revealed or connected with divine revelation), and so did not necessarily command assent.

Amnesty International reports that 993 worldwide executions were recorded in 2017, with the USA submitting 23 people to capital punishment.

The Vatican said Thursday that its policy on capital punishment has been revised to reflect the changing times.

The text is from Pope Francis' address to a gathering organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization back on October 11, 2017, and was obtained by the Catholic Herald.

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Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, of the Archdiocese of Hartford, added that Pope Francis' revisions dovetail with the church's teaching on the right to life and dignity of the human person.

Pope Francis has long railed against the death penalty.

The Argentine pontiff, who had hinted past year that such a change might come, has described the church's stance on the death penalty as evidence of how the Vatican can evolve - in this case, over the course of a generation.

In a discourse given in Saint Louis, MO, in January 1999, John Paul further referred to "the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil", as a sign of hope.

"One of the rationales for the death penalty in Catholic teachings historically was to protect society".

In addition, plenty of Catholic organizations are active in the anti-death penalty campaign, including the Sant'Egidio Community, which together with Italian authorities always lights up Rome's Colosseum whenever a country abolishes capital punishment.

More than 2,700 prisoners are on death row in the US.

Last year, there were "993 executions in 23 countries", according to Amnesty International.

"I think what this does is get people to reexamine their own attitudes and convictions", said John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, who said any shift in public attitude could be consequential.

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