From the Vatican City, Pope Francis has declared that the death penalty is inadmissible and contradicts the teachings of the gospel. This declaration follows an international trend of banning the death penalty. According to Al Jazeera, at the end of 2017 there were 106 countries where the death penalty was banned. However, last year a separate 53 countries had issued death sentences, with 23 of them executing over 900 people. Most executions have taken place in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. In the U.S. and China, 23 people were also put to death.
Throughout his five-years as the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has condemned the death penalty. However, his latest declaration is by far the strongest stance he has taken. The Pope has been particularly popular with the younger generation of Catholics for his progressive social stances. This shift in the Catholic Church stands as an example for the majority Christian countries that remain to upkeep capital punishment.
Pope Francis has historically denounced the death penalty. In the past he has said, “It entails cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.” Pope Francis has called for a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The change will read, “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 … there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.”
The new text expresses the belief that there are ways to rehabilitate even the most heinous criminals, a claim that Sister Helen Prejean has occurred in her anti-capital punishment campaign. She said, “If we say we are for dignity of all life, that includes innocent and guilty as well.” Sister Prejean also followed up with, “We can’t claim anymore that’s the only way you can defend society.” Pope Francis has also opposed life sentences, which he perceives as a hidden type of capital punishment.
The Pope has led the Church through difficult times as Catholicism is slowly losing popularity due to allegations of misconduct from ranking members. However, Pope Francis has begun to shift the Catholic Church and perception of the Vatican into a brighter light by proclaiming progressive and more liberal ideas that would be unheard of in past decades. The official condemnation of the death penalty is a positive move that ought to be followed by countries, in particular the United States. The US prison system has quickly devolved into a corrupt, oppressive mechanism with cases of innocent people put under the death penalty due to mistrial. Although Pope Francis has created a rift between members of the Church, strong change was and still is needed to reform the Church into a positive institution for the world.
The Catholic Church historically supported the death penalty if it “is the only way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, the recent development on the death penalty was described as an evolution of prior teachings from officials in the Vatican. Since he took up the papacy, Pope Francis has supported the notion that every life is sacred, and that it is immortal and unjust for a human be given the power to take the life of another, despite the crime committed.
In addition to legal and government officials, capital punishment has been rapidly losing popularity among different citizenries across the world. The Catholic Church historically was a leader in morality, but had increasingly lost popularity from corruption charges and complaints of being steadfast in archaic habits. Although many will agree the Vatican has a long way to come to be considered progressive, condemnations such as the one against the death penalty is a good step for a positively reformed Catechism.