After decades of debating the topic, the Catholic Church has finally made up its mind on the death penalty: it’s wrong.
The death penalty is inadmissible in all cases, the Vatican officially announced on Thursday.
Pope Francis has been outspoken in his opposition to the death penalty since at least 2015 when he addressed Congress and pleaded against capital punishment. On Thursday the Vatican made his position official, shifting the Roman Catholic position, according to the New York Times. U.S. Catholics are far less certain on the issue, however: 53 percent of U.S. Catholics favor the death penalty and 42 percent oppose it, according to a 2018 Pew Research poll.
The Catholic Church will now teach to its 1.2 billion followers around the world that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and the church as a whole will now work to abolish the practice worldwide, the Vatican said.
“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 new teaching reads. According to the Associated Press, the text was approved in May but wasn’t published until Thursday.
“There is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” the teaching says. “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.”
The new teaching wouldn’t allow death penalty at all, which stands in stark contrast to the previous text, which allowed death penalty if it was “the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.” Francis’ beliefs also differ from that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who entertained the debate among his peers.
“There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia,” Benedict wrote in 2015, while he was still a cardinal.
The death penalty is becoming less popular every year, according to a 2017 Amnesty International report. There were 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down 39 percent from 2015. By the end of 2017, the majority of countries had completely abolished the use of capital punishment.
Cover image: Pope Francis looks on as he frees a dove during a meeting with Patriarchs of the churches of the Middle East at the St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari, southern Italy July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile