On August 2, Pope Francis changed the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching to declare that the death penalty can never be sanctioned because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans.
In a statement by The Vatican, the pontiff changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect the new teachings. Prior to its revision, the catechism said the church didn’t exclude the use of capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
The new teaching calls the policy outdated. The Los Angeles Times reported that the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office said, “the development of Catholic doctrine on capital punishment didn’t contradict prior teaching, but rather was an evolution of it.”
Pope Francis statement read, “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,” according to The Guardian.
The New York Post reported that the Catholic Church allowed capital punishment in extreme cases for centuries, but its position began to change under Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.
The Guardian noted that more than 2,700 prisoners are on death row in the U.S. and capital punishment is legal in 31 states. The site also noted that the Pope has made prison ministry a central part of his papacy.
Pope Francis has long rallied against the death penalty, insisting it can never be justified, no matter how heinous the crime. He has also long made prison ministry a mainstay of his vocation, regularly inviting inmates for visits to The Vatican.
The Los Angeles Times also noted that Pope Francis still stays in touch with a group of Argentine inmates he ministered to during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
This latest move by the pontiff is one in a series of changes he has implemented since he took the position of leader of the Catholic Church in March 2013.
He is also looking for the Catholic Church to shift away from the church led by an absolute monarch, leading to a more a cooperative relationship with the bishops in the decision-making process, according to Belief Net. Pope Francis also relooking at the conversations around, sex, marriage and the family, and promoting a more open approach to them, not one that involves condemnation but honesty and openness.