On Thursday, the Vatican published an updated Catholic policy on the death penalty, ruling it "inadmissible" in all cases. Previously, the Catechism of the Catholic Church — the compilation of official Catholic teachings — allowed capital punishment only "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor." Under the new policy, approved by Pope Francis in the spring, the Catholic Church says there's now "an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes," and thanks to new understandings of "penal sanctions" and "more effective systems of detention," there's no longer an excuse for capital punishment.
"Consequently, 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," Catechism No. 2267 now reads. In an accompanying letter from the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria calls the new policy an evolution of Catholic teaching, not a break with the past. He cites statements from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
Still, "the new provision is expected to run into stiff opposition from Catholics in countries such as the United States, where many Catholics support the death penalty," Reuters notes. Francis, a staunch opponent of the death penalty and avid practitioner of prison ministry, signaled his intention to shift church doctrine last October.