Pope Francis rules out death penalty in change to Catholic Church teaching


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has decreed that the death penalty is “inadmissible” under all circumstances and the Catholic Church should campaign to abolish it, a change in church teaching that could influence Catholic politicians and judges in the U.S. and across the globe.

The change, announced Thursday, was hailed by anti-death penalty activists and scorned by Francis’ frequent conservative critics, who said he had no right to change what Scripture revealed and popes have taught for centuries.

The Vatican said that Francis had amended the Catechism of the Catholic Church — the compilation of official Catholic teaching — to say that capital punishment can never be sanctioned because it constitutes an “attack” on the dignity of human beings.

Previously, the catechism said the church didn’t exclude recourse to capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” Past popes have upheld that position, though St. John Paul II began urging an end to the practice and stressed that the guilty were just as deserving of dignity as innocents.

The new teaching says the previous policy is outdated because there are new ways to protect the common good, and the church should instead commit itself to working to end capital punishment.

“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,” reads the new text.

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