source: America Magazine
published: 4 October 2020
Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” does something that some Catholics believed could not be done: It ratifies a change in church teaching. In this case, on the death penalty.
In 2018, Pope Francis ordered a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official compendium of church teaching, when he termed the death penalty “inadmissible.” Today the Pope placed the full weight of his teaching authority behind this statement: The death penalty is inadmissible, and Catholics should work for its abolition. A papal encyclical is one of the highest of all documents in terms of its authority, removing any lingering doubt about the church’s belief.
“There can be no stepping back from this position,” says Francis, referring to the opposition to capital punishment expressed by St. John Paul II. “Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”
Helen Prejean, C.S.J., author of Dead Man Walking and a long-time opponent of capital punishment, whose work helped to alter the catechism, praised today’s news.
I rejoice in Pope Francis’s ringing proclamation of the inviolable dignity of all human life, even the life of murderers, and I am heartened by the church’s unequivocal opposition to governments’ use of the death penalty in all instances. In killing chambers, I’ve seen close-up the torture and suffering of human beings, rendered defenseless and killed by the state, their lives stripped of all dignity. I rejoice that now this clarity of church teaching will help end this unspeakable suffering and spark the Gospel of Jesus to be lived in its fullness: restoration of human life, not humiliation, torture and execution.
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