The Vatican has announced that it will pursue the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Pope Francis has argued that capital punishment denies the dignity inherent in all humans.
The Vatican on Thursday announced changes to the Catholic Church’s stance on the death penalty, citing Pope Francis’ belief that capital punishment denies the inherent dignity of all humans.
The universal catechism, which brings together church doctrine in a summarized form, was updated to reflect the change in doctrine.
“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,” the revised catechism says.
Last year, Pope Francis announced his intention to formally change church doctrine on the death penalty, saying capital punishment amounted to the voluntary killing of a human, which “is always sacred in the eyes of the creator.”
Evolution of doctrine
The shift in doctrine stands opposed to many US Catholic believers’ support for the death penalty. Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who heads the Vatican’s doctrine office, said the shift reflects an evolution instead of a contradiction to previous Church belief.
“If, in fact the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes,” Ladaria said in a letter accompanying the Vatican announcement.
Prior to the change, the Catholic Church did not exclude capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
‘Important step forward’
Ladaria said the shift, which was officially made in May but remained unannounced until Thursday, aimed to “give energy” to the anti-capital punishment movement 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.”
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International described the shift in doctrine an “important step forward.”
“Already in the past, the church has expressed its aversion to the death penalty, but with words that did not exclude ambiguities,” said Amnesty Italia spokesman Riccardo Noury. “Today they are saying it an even clearer way.”
Noury noted that there appears to “a desire to see the Catholic Church take an active role in the global abolitionist movement.”