California governor: Pope Francis told me he was ‘proud’ of state’s death penalty moratorium

Gavin Newsom California Gov. Gavin Newsom attends an event with fellow governors in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 23, 2024, in Washington, D.C. | Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that following a conference at the Vatican this week Pope Francis personally conveyed his endorsement of California’s efforts to end the use of the death penalty. 

In a recent interview with Catholic News Service, Newsom said the pope expressed “how proud he was of the work we’re doing in California.” 

California is one of more than two dozen states that still have the death penalty, with the largest death row in the United States. However, no one has been executed in California since 2006, due in part to a moratorium beginning in 2019 that Newsom oversaw via executive order. 

Newsom told CNS after his meeting with Pope Francis that he was “struck” by the pope’s sudden comments to him on the death penalty.

“I wasn’t anticipating that, especially in the context of this convening,” he told the news outlet. 

Pope Francis throughout his pontificate has promoted the end of the death penalty worldwide, changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2018 on the permissibility of the death penalty. The Church had long taught that the death penalty could be legitimate in limited cases, while the updated language teaches that capital punishment is “inadmissible,” and its elimination should be sought.

The change reflects a development of Catholic doctrine in recent years. St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.

The Vatican’s top doctrinal office’s April declaration on the theme of human dignity, Dignitas Infinita, reiterated that the death penalty “violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances.”

California’s Catholic bishops have expressed support for the state’s moratorium on the death penalty. 

“This is a good day for California and a good day for our country,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles in a 2019 statement. Gomez said that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it provide “true justice” to those who were victims of crime.

Gomez, along with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has long called for an end to capital punishment throughout the United States.

Newsom, a Democrat who has held the governor’s office since 2019, has faced serious criticism for actions he has taken as governor related to the expansion of abortion as well as the expansion of protection for “gender-affirming care” for minors. 

Newsom was one of several U.S. leaders who spoke at the Vatican Climate Summit, held at the Vatican from May 15–17 at the Casina Pio IV, the seat of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, which sits in the Vatican Gardens. According to Newsom’s office, he highlighted in his speech California’s climate leadership and called for “greater global partnership,” urging world leaders to “protect democracy against the rise of extremism and in the face of climate deniers.”

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.