Pope Francis has declared the death penalty “inadmissible” in an update of Catholic believers’ most important guide to Church teaching, the catechism, the Vatican said Thursday.
“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’,” the new text states.
Francis approved the change to the catechism, which covers a wide range of moral and social issues, during a meeting in May with the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s doctrinal watchdog.
The update also says the Church will “work with determination” for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.
“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,” the new text says.
“Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.”
The Catholic Church has steadily hardened its opposition to capital punishment in recent decades, with Francis’s calls for its abolition echoing similar pleas from his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II.
The 1992 text of the catechism says authorities should take appropriate measures in the interest of the common good without excluding the use of the death penalty in extremely grave cases.
More recent updates said factors justifying capital punishment have become rare if not practically inexistent.
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.
Speaking in October last year, he acknowledged that the Vatican itself had historically had “recourse to the extreme and inhuman remedy” of judicial execution, but said past doctrinal errors should be put aside.
“It doesn’t give justice to victims, but it feeds vengeance,” he said in June 2016, arguing that the biblical commandment “thou shall not kill” applies to the innocent as well as the guilty.
Francis has also called for an “international consensus” on the abolition of capital punishment.
“Modern society has the ability to punish crimes effectively without definitively taking away the possibility of redemption for those who commit them,” he said.
More than two-thirds of the world’s countries — including most predominantly Catholic countries — have abolished or suspended judicial killings.