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Death penalty change?

Q. Until recently the Catechism of the Catholic Church said that capital punishment was acceptable under some circumstances. Now it says that the death penalty is inadmissible. Therefore, if the teaching was wrong before, then it may be wrong now. (Woodbridge, Va.)


A. It is true that the position of the Catholic Church against the use of the death penalty has been strengthened because of a textual change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church announced by Pope Francis in August 2018.


Previously the catechism had read: "The traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggression" (No. 2267). (The same section was quick to point out, though, that the cases which warranted the execution of the offender in today's society were "very rare, if not practically nonexistent.")


The new catechism text authorized by Pope Francis, however, will speak even more absolutely and will now read, "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."


The church's moral teaching has been developed and refined over time, as is evident from its positions on slavery and on usury (charging interest on loans). The new text of the catechism will itself explain the thinking behind the revision, pointing out that: "Today … there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.


"In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption."


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019