Vatican City, Oct 12, 2017 / 08:37 am
On Wednesday, Pope Francis told a gathering in Rome that the Catechism of the Catholic Church should significantly revise its treatment of the death penalty.
It's no surprise that Francis proposed a stronger theological condemnation of capital punishment. He's criticized the practice throughout his papacy, as did his most immediate predecessors, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. All three popes have pled for clemency when the execution of condemned prisoners is imminent, and all three have linked capital punishment to the "culture of death" and the "throwaway culture" they've criticized. All three have called for nations to abolish the death penalty.
The Church's official position on the death penalty is nuanced. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the "Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty," assuming a criminal's guilt is sufficiently established, and only when execution seems to be the only just way of protecting public safety.
In his landmark encyclical Evangelium Vitae, issued in 1995, John Paul wrote that the punishment of criminals should focus on rehabilitation, while also ensuring the common good – public order and safety. He opposed capital punishment "except in cases of absolute necessity," when a community would have no other means to protect itself.