Pope Francis declared the death penalty unjustifiable in all cases Thursday, shifting a long-held church doctrine that allowed the practice in rare instances.
The Vatican announced Thursday that Francis approved a change to the catechism, the official collection of Catholic doctrine, to forbid the death penalty in all cases, a departure from an earlier church teaching that permitted capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
Now, the Church says, the practice has become outdated as more humane ways of shielding society from the criminally violent have emerged.
“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 on capital punishment says.
“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,” it concludes.
Francis, who serves as a spiritual leader to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, spoke out against capital punishment during a 2015 address to Congress.
“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,” he said at the time.
The pontiff also routinely meets with prisoners while traveling the world and has made criminal justice reform a mainstay of his social teaching.