Vatican changes teaching to oppose death penalty in all cases

Pope Francis leads the general audience at the Paul VI Hall in Vatican 1 August 2018. Max Rossi Reuters

Pope Francis leads the general audience at the Paul VI Hall in Vatican 1 August 2018. Max Rossi Reuters

Pope Francis has changed Catholic Church teaching to fully reject the death penalty, the Vatican announced Thursday, saying it would work to abolish capital punishment worldwide.

"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", the new text says.

The text says there are more effective detention systems that "do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption".

"The catechism prior to yesterday had stated that the death penalty was not allowed except in the rarest of circumstances, so in some ways substantively it's not that major a change", says John Francis Burke, who teaches political science at Trinity University in San Antonio, specializing in Catholic social teaching, Religion and Politics.

"All people have rights and dignity and I think that's the message here, that dignity of all human life", Faulhaber says, "and so, by taking someone's life, that does not promote the dignity of life".

Before this, church doctrine accepted the death penalty if it was "the only practicable way" to defend lives, an opening that some Catholics took as license to support capital punishment in many cases.

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Cuomo says his proposal is made in solidarity with the pope and in honor of his late father, Mario Cuomo, a staunch death penalty opponent during his three terms as NY governor from 1983 to 1994. The United States was No. 8 on the list in 2017, according to Amnesty International. While years in coming, the shift raises new questions about how politicians, particularly conservative Catholics in red states, will navigate the church's revised stance.

In Africa, capital punishment exists in many countries, but a 2009 synod of African bishops called for a "total and universal abolition of the death penalty".

She said the revision to the catechism "further clarifies any remaining ambiguity about the church's teaching against the death penalty and strengthens the global resolve to bring an end to this practice". He has told friends that, as a born-again Christian, he believes he will be in the presence of God upon his death, his sins forgiven, said Geoff Gonifas, his longtime pastor.

The new provision is expected to face stiff opposition from Catholics in countries such as the United States, where many support the death penalty.

The bishops said they have publicly expressed in recent years that the "death penalty is no longer needed or morally justified in Nebraska".

The move comes after decades of hardening opposition from the Church to capital punishment, with Francis and his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II all making similar pleas for it to be stopped.

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As CMN celebrates this declaration honoring the dignity of all life, it especially holds in prayer all those who have been victims of or impacted by grave harm.

"The number of U.S. states carrying out executions increased from five in 2016 to eight, with Arkansas, Ohio and Virginia resuming executions after a hiatus", the report said.

Is Pope Francis' change a substantial deviation from previous teachings?

In 2015, four Catholic media outlets in the United States published a joint editorial calling for the death penalty to be abolished.

However, human rights organisation Amnesty International recorded at least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries and almost 1,000 executions in 2017 alone.

Pope Francis has become a controversial figure due to his many changes to Catholic Church doctrine.

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