Death penalty is ‘contrary to the Gospel,’ pope says

| Cindy Wooden | October 11, 2017 | 3 Comments
The death penalty is "contrary to the Gospel," the pope said in his speech.

Pope Francis gestures before addressing participants at an encounter marking the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the Vatican Oct. 11. The death penalty is “contrary to the Gospel,” the pope said in his speech. CNS photo/Paul Haring

The death penalty, no matter how it is carried out, “is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.

Marking the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the Vatican Oct. 11, Pope Francis said the catechism’s discussion of the death penalty, already formally amended by St. John Paul II, needs to be even more explicitly against capital punishment.

Capital punishment, he said, “heavily wounds human dignity” and is an “inhuman measure.”

“It is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor,” the pope said.

The death penalty, he said, not only extinguishes a human life, it extinguishes the possibility that the person, recognizing his or her errors, will request forgiveness and begin a new life.

The church’s position on the death penalty, he said, is one example of how church teaching is not static, but grows and deepens along with a growth in faith and in response to modern questions and concerns.

In the past, when people did not see any other way for society to defend itself against serious crime and when “social maturity” was lacking, he said, people accepted the death penalty as “a logical consequence of the application of justice.”

In fact, he said, the church itself believed that, and the death penalty was a possible punishment in the Papal States. It was only in 1969 that Pope Paul VI formally banned the death penalty, even though it had not been imposed since 1870.

“Let us take responsibility for the past and recognize” that use of the death penalty was “dictated by a mentality that was more legalistic than Christian,” Pope Francis said. “Remaining neutral today when there is a new need to reaffirm personal dignity would make us even more guilty.”

The first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by St. John Paul II in 1992, recognized “as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.” At the same time, it said, “bloodless means” that could protect human life should be used when possible.

But the language was formally changed in 1997 after St. John Paul II issued his pro-life encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae.” Since then, the catechism has specified that the use of the death penalty is permissible only when the identity and responsibility of the condemned is certain and when capital punishment “is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

The development of church teaching, Pope Francis insisted, is not the same as contradicting or changing church teaching. “Tradition is a living reality and only a partial vision would lead to thinking of ‘the deposit of faith’ as something static.”

“The word of God,” he said, “cannot be saved in mothballs as if it were an old blanket to protect against insects.”

The Christian faith, he said, always has insisted on the dignity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death. So, the church has a continuing obligation to speak out when it realizes something that was accepted in the past actually contradicts church teaching.

“Therefore, it is necessary to reiterate that, no matter how serious the crime committed, the death penalty is inadmissible, because it attacks the inviolability and dignity of the person,” Pope Francis said.

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Category: From the Pope

  • Kitty Kat

    I wonder if a priests raping children, moving them to another parish to rape again, and their bishops covering it up is contrary to the Gospel? Probably not if they go to confession and screw the victim out of money. Go figure!?

  • Charles C.

    “The Catholic Church, following the Bible and the fathers and doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as Pope Pius XII, has always viewed capital punishment as a legitimate form of protection of the public from immediate danger and as a legitimate punishment for serious crimes.

    “Pope Francis has gone beyond the position held by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who, while opposing capital punishment, never held that it was, in itself, intrinsically evil.

    “St. Thomas Aquinas, in his classic defense of capital punishment in the Summa Theologica, argued that “if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in
    order to safeguard the common good.”

    “Pope Pius XII defended in 1955 the authority of the State to punish crimes, even with the death penalty. He argued that capital punishment is morally defensible in every age and culture because “the coercive power of legitimate human authority” is based on “the sources of revelation and traditional doctrine.”

    “Both the Old and New Testaments indicate that the death penalty can be legitimate. For instance, Genesis 9:6 states: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” Or again, St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans teaches that the state “does not bear the sword in vain [but] is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.”

    I’m always more than a little nervous whenever anyone, priest or layman, says “Sure, the Church, Popes, Saints, Doctors of the Church, have all taught the same position for 2,000 years, but they were all wrong. Aren’t you glad that I’ve come along to reveal the truth to you and free you from this error?”

  • M Tibbs

    Doesn’t make sense to me. Republicans are against abortion but are for capital punishment and the priests typically push us to vote Republican. Will the priests push us ti vote Democrat now? They are for abortion but against capital punishment. Now what?