Pope Francis Revises Catholic Church Teaching on the Death Penalty

Patrick Hauf | August 2, 2018

Pope Francis revised Catholic Church teachings regarding capital punishment on Thursday, stating that the death penalty is “inadmissible,” while vowing the Church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

The change in teaching comes through the writings of the catechism, the official collection of Catholic Church doctrine. This new catechism teaching differs from the previous one, which stated that the death penalty was acceptable so long as it was “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

The full revised catechism text reads:

“Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.  

Today, however, there is an increasing 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 significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.

Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively 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 dignity of the person,' and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Francis has made criminal justice reform a crucial part of his message as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

During his address to Congress in 2015, Francis said, “every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”