Vatican changes teaching to oppose death penalty in all cases

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The Vatican said the change to its universal catechism, a summary of Church teaching, reflected Pope Francis' total opposition to capital punishment.

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich already had agreed to serve on a panel Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in Chicago to discuss changing laws, standards and attitudes about capital punishment.

Previously a Catechism of the Catholic Church had allowed the capital punishment in rare cases.

Pope Francis has declared the death penalty "inadmissible" in an update of Catholic believers' most important guide to Church teaching, the catechism, the Vatican said Thursday, August 2.

Francis wrote in a March 2015 letter to the president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty that "today capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the condemned's crime may have been".

It's a shift for the church, which used to consider the death penalty a "means of safeguarding the common good" in response to "certain crimes".

In his reversal of the church's stance, Pope Francis noted that convicted criminals can be incarcerated with the potential for rehabilitation.

In the United States, where 22 percent of the population are Catholic, execution is still legal in 31 states.

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Here in Louisiana, there's been a debate about the death penalty in recent weeks, after a federal judge approved a one-year extension to an order that has prevented the state from carrying out executions.

Amnesty International reports that 993 worldwide executions were recorded in 2017, with the USA submitting 23 people to capital punishment. In November 2011, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called for leaders to "make every effort to eliminate the death penalty and to reform the penal system in a way that ensures respect for the prisoners' human dignity". "Even people who do. repulsive things, we should to want to pray for their conversion and want them to repent for what they've done".

"If, in fact the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes", Ladaria says in a letter explaining the change.

However, human rights organisation Amnesty International recorded at least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries and almost 1,000 executions in 2017 alone.

As a Catholic scholar who writes about religion, politics and policy, I understand how Christians struggle with the death penalty - some can not endure the idea and others support it as a way to deter and punish bad crimes.

It was precisely Francis' citation of the Gospel, however, that sparked criticism from some on the Catholic right, who cited Scripture in arguing that Francis had no authority to change what previous popes taught.

What does the catechism now say about the death penalty?

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