Pope Francis Changes Church’s Stance on Death Penalty
Since the Pope became pontiff, he has denounced the death penalty. Only now, making it official by adding it to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Teachings by the church will now reflect that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and says that it will “work with determination towards its abolition worldwide.”
The announcement by Pope Francis, whom 1.2 billion Catholics look to for spiritual guidance, could mean significant change in the United States, where capital punishment is currently carried out 31 states and as a federal punishment.
Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 to 2005 also shared the ideology that the death penalty was against the church’s beliefs.
In 1998, John Paul wished “the world the consensus concerning the need for urgent and adequate measures … to end the death penalty.”
His successor, Benedict XVI, also called on society’s leaders “to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty.”
In March 2015, Pope Francis penned a letter to the president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty stating that “today capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the condemned’s crime may have been.”
Francis added that the death penalty “entails cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” and said it was to be rejected “due to the defective selectivity of the criminal justice system and in the face of the possibility of judicial error.”
‘Punishment can exist without the exclusion of human dignity’
The change announced Thursday was “important” but should not come as a surprise. An announcement such as this had been expected for quite some time dating back to John Paul II.
The Pope’s announcement basically says that no matter how horrible the crime, someone never loses his or her human dignity. One of the rationales for the death penalty in Catholic teachings historically was to protect society. But in today’s modern times, there are optional punishments that serve to protect the public without having to give up simple human dignity.
Pope Francis believes that human life must be defended “at every stage of its development.” Francis told top US elected lawmakers, “This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty,” He said, “I am convinced that this way is the best, since 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.”
Francis also reiterated that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, an influential group of lobbyists, already advocates for the abolition of the death penalty. Francis stated, “Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
53% of US Catholics praise the death penalty
The human rights group Amnesty International recorded at least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down 4% from 2016 and 39% from 2015. In a report published in April of 2018, Amnesty International noted that most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan, in that particular order. For the ninth year in a row, the U.S. was the only country to carry out executions in the Americas region. There were 23 executions in the United States in 2017, while 41 convicts were sentenced to the death penalty.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year, 54% of Americans favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 39% are opposed. That represents a slight increase since 2016, when public support for the death penalty reached a four-decade low. The survey revealed that 53% of Catholics favor capital punishment, while 42% oppose it. Support for the death penalty showed to be highest among white evangelical Protestants.
Pope Francis has long rallied in opposition of the death penalty, insisting that it can never be justified, no matter how heinous the crime. He has also long kept prison ministry a mainstay of his vocation, visiting with inmates during almost all foreign travel to offer words of solidarity and hope.