Prior to Thursday, August 2, 2018, the Catechism - the official guide on the church's stance on everything - taught that the death penalty is okay only "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor."
Yesterday, the Vatican announced that the pontiff has approved a change to this particular issue. According to FaithWire, the Catechism will now state, "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," noting the Catholic Church "works with determination for its abolition worldwide."
New Catholic church teaching on the death penalty
The rewritten Catechism says: "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."
"Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. 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.
"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.
Pope Francis on the death penalty
Crux reports that the pontiff has been thinking about changing this church's stance on capital punishment for a while.
In the Vatican's letter to the bishops which contained the new change, Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer SJ - a Spanish Jesuit, theologian and a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church - explained that the pope wanted the change to "better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point."
On the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism in October 2017, Pope Francis said at the time that capital punishment "heavily wounds human dignity," describing the process as an "inhuman measure."
"It is, in itself, contrary to the gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor," he further explained.
While the change was just announced, the statement from the Vatican's press office says that the pontiff actually approved the new changes to point number 2267 of the Catechism on May 11, 2018.