(RNS) — Pope Francis has ordered a change to the catechism of the Catholic Church, altering existing language to read “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” It vows that the church will work “with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Although Catholics have been generally opposed to the death penalty for some time — St. John Paul II updated the catechism in 1997 with stronger language criticizing capital punishment — Francis’ change clarifies that the church fully opposes the act.
“The new text, following in the footsteps of the teaching of John Paul II in 'Evangelium Vitae,' affirms that ending the life of a criminal as punishment for a crime is inadmissible because it attacks the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes,” said Cardinal Luis Ladaria when announcing the change, according to the Catholic News Service. Ladaria, who is the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, noted that Francis approved the changes on May 11.
Francis has long been a vocal opponent of the death penalty, and he hinted at a possible change during a 2017 address to church leaders, where he also called the practice “inadmissible.”
In addition, Francis endorsed abolishing the practice in the United States during his 2015 address to Congress.
“Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty,” Francis said. “Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
According to a 2016 Pew Research poll, U.S. Catholics are more opposed to the death penalty than most major religious groups. Only 43 percent of Catholics supported capital punishment, compared with a majority of white mainline Protestants (60 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (69 percent).
The same poll showed that 49 percent of Americans overall support the death penalty, the lowest in more than four decades.