With the doctrinal reformulation concerning the death penalty to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has clarified the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty. Acting in continuity with and developing from the teaching already in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this clarification should come as no surprise to anyone – the Church teaches that all life has value, from conception to natural death. We should note that the entry on the death penalty had been changed in 1997 from its original formulation in 1992 to reflect the clear teaching of Pope St. John Paul II’s brilliant 1995 encyclical, “Evangelium Gaudium.”
The new section in the Catechism No. 2267 will now 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. Today, however, 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.” It should be noted that, as of the time of this writing, this section is not yet updated on the official Vatican website (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm)
This change does not in any way whatsoever diminish the Church’s pro-life message. Our Mother, the Church, stands clear in her stance that life begins at conception. She stands firm in her message that every life is sacred and beautiful, those able-bodied, and those disabled. She stands firm in her teaching that no one has the right to take a human life, except in legitimate self-defense (see Catechism No. 2263). Abortion and euthanasia are grave evils and nothing can ever change this. This new reformulation in the Catechism adds to the consistent respect life teaching of the Church.
Perhaps, in addition to learning the teaching of the Church on this important issue, we can, as a Church, recommit ourselves to one of the corporal works of mercy – visiting the imprisoned. Pray for the rehabilitation of those who are criminals. Pray for their repentance and for the working of justice with mercy. Pray for those priests, deacons, religious and laity who work as pastoral ministers in prisons and jails.