The Catholic Church has announced a major change to its doctrine, declaring the death penalty “inadmissible” to reflect that all life is sacred and there is no justification for state-sponsored executions.
In an address by the Vatican on Thursday, Pope Francis approved the revision to say that capital punishment constitutes an “attack” on the dignity of human beings.
This contradicts previous catechism teaching that said the church did not exclude recourse to capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor”.
Cardinal Ladaria, head of the Vatican’s doctrine, said the development of Catholic doctrine on capital punishment did not contradict prior teaching but rather was an evolution of it.
Pope Francis, famous for his liberal-leaning views, has long railed against the death penalty.
In a March 2015 letter to the president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, the Pontiff wrote, “Today, capital punishment is unacceptable, however, serious the condemned’s crime may have been.”
The church’s stand comes amid a surge in support for the death penalty as last year, 53 countries issued death sentences and 23 of them executed at least 993 people, according to Amnesty International.
In the United States, 23 people were executed, a slight increase from 2016 but a low number compared with historical trends, while China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan got the most executions.
Capital punishment is however banned in most of Europe, with Belarus being the only European country that carried out executions in 2017.
By the end of last year, 106 countries worldwide had banned the death penalty, but it remains in force in Nigeria and most African states.