Pope Francis has called for a revision of Catholic teaching to make the death penalty “inadmissible” citing it as an example of how Church doctrine can develop. In the past the Church allowed for the death penalty in certain circumstances, but throughout his papacy Francis has repeatedly condemned the use of capital punishment.
Now, in a major speech delivered last week in the Vatican, the Pope said he wants this to be included in the Catechism, the official summary of Catholic doctrine. “It is necessary therefore to restate that, however grave the crime that may have been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person,” Francis told a gathering of cardinals, bishops, priests and catechists in the Paul VI synod hall, who were in Rome to mark 25 years since John Paul II promulgated the current version of the catechism.
The day before Pope Francis made his call, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn discussed the development of church teaching with respect to the death penalty in an interview on the Catechism with 'Kathpress'.
The Fifth Commandment “You shall not kill” had “from the very first moment” been the most controversial topic in the preparation for the World Catechism, Cardinal Schönborn, who was editorial secretary of the Catechism, recalled. Many readers of the Catechism had the impression that traditional church teaching permitted the death penalty as stated in paragraph 2267: “The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude.. recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings against aggression”.
In his opinion, however, this was a point where the question of what traditional church teaching was, was still under discussion, Schönborn said. “Pope John Paul II wanted a more rigorous formulation – I can really testify to that – but he accepted the presentation proposed by the Commission, certainly out of respect for what is here called ‘traditional church teaching’.”
There were clearly stages of development in church teaching not only on the death penalty, but also regarding slavery and torture in the past, Schönborn pointed out and added, “the development of church teaching is perhaps still too little talked about.”
Cardinal Schönborn also advised the critics of Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia to study the first section of the third part of the Catechism. “I think the altercation over Amoris Laetitia would be much more amicable if its critics were to study the fundamental moral teaching of the Catechism, which is entirely oriented to St Thomas Aquinas – namely, that all moral action takes place in a narrative, in the history of a concrete human being, with the imprints, possibilities, conditions, circumstances of life and the limitations and chances of one’s own freedom. This is the important contribution of Amoris Laetitia.”
If this section of the Catechism was read as an introduction to Amoris Laetitia, Schönborn said, then readers would very soon realise that Pope Francis was totally in line with what the World Catechism says.