For some years now, I have expressed my concern that the death penalty is both cruel and unnecessary and I have called for its abolition.

So, I welcome the changes to The Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty and I am grateful for Pope Francis’ leadership in working for an end to judicial executions worldwide.

The Catechism revisions announced today reflect an authentic development of the Church’s doctrine that started with St. John Paul II and has continued under emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis.

The Scriptures, along with saints and teachers in the Church’s tradition, justify the death penalty as a fitting punishment for those who commit evil or take another person’s life. And the Church has always recognized that governments and civil authorities have the right to carry out executions in order to protect their citizens’ lives and punish those guilty of the gravest crimes against human life and the stability of the social order.

But in recent decades, there has been a growing consensus — among bishops’ conferences around the world and in the teachings of the Popes and the Catechism — that use of the death penalty can no longer be accepted. 

In his letter, Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope John Paul II said the death penalty could be used only in cases “when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” But, he added, “as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

The revisions announced today are in line with that conclusion.

The Catechism is not equating capital punishment with the evils of abortion and euthanasia. Those crimes involve the direct killing of innocent life and they are always gravely immoral. By definition, the lives of almost all those on death row are not “innocent.” But as St. John Paul II said: “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignityand God himself pledges to guarantee this.

I respect that many good people will continue to believe that our society needs the death penalty to express its moral outrage and to punish those who commit the ultimate crime of taking human life.

But I do not believe that public executions serve to advance that message in our secular society.

Showing mercy to those who do not “deserve” it, seeking redemption for persons who have committed evil, working for a society where every human life is considered sacred and protected — this is how we are called to follow Jesus Christ and proclaim his Gospel of life in these times and in this culture. 

Full story at Angelus News.