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The Internet is full of news that Pope Francis has amended the Catechism of the Catholic Church to forbid capital punishment under all circumstances.

One thing remains unclear for me, however:

  • Did Pope Francis indeed declare the capital punishment to be intrisincally evil, that is, sinful under any and all circumstances, even if / when effective incarcerination is impossible?
  • Or did he (merely?) state that since in contemporary times effective incarcerination is possible, it should always be used instead of capital punishment?

That second interpretation seems to be hinted by these words:

Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

However, these words seem to hint the first interpretation:

the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”

The distinction seems to matter because the question whether in contemporary times the States can, in all, even most extreme cases, effectively protect the lives of their citizens without capital punishment seems to not belong to the scope of "morals and faith", which is the scope of the teaching of the Church. In particular, I feel, this seems dubious in states where there is war or where the influences of organized crime are beyond control.

Context that I still feel belongs to the question: The way I used to be getting this (maybe wrongly) the Church was teaching that physical violence, while undesireable, was a rightful response to someone's unjust aggresion, whether the threat posed by this unjust aggression was immediate (as if, someone is shooting at innocent people) or recurrent (as if, an enemy state is preparing an invasion against us - hence even preventive war may be morally acceptable in certain cases; or as if a Mafia boss cannot be guaranteed to be succesfully imprisoned for a prolonged time because of his out of control influences, so the State sentences him to capital punishment before his men rescue him from prison or a corrupt judge frees him, either would most likely happen if he hasn't been executed already).

However, I have feeling, in many cases, including this one, Pope Francis amends this part of the teaching of the Church, saying that physical violence may only be permissible as a response to immediate threat, but never to a recurring threat. Which is why it may still be permissible for a police officer to shoot down a Mafia hitman if in any other case this Mafia hitman would shoot down the police officer instead; but it is not permissible to sentence said hitman to capital punishment even if because of the ongoing war with Mafia rebels he cannot be effectively imprisoned for a prolonged time. Is this interpretation correct?

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    NYT has a good article on the event. By my understanding, he's changed the catechism, which is significant, but not canon law. I'm drafting a question of my own, as it seems this isn't out of left field. – 3961 Aug 2 '18 at 17:02
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  • @jongricafort Comments are not for topical discussion. – Caleb Aug 3 '18 at 11:33
  • Seriously; the OP is written in English and the first link is to Latin? – SLM Aug 4 '18 at 4:19
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    @SLM The linked page is in 8 languages, and the direct links to anchors on the page where specific languages start are broken (although the link in this post correctly includes the anchor to English). The English version is about 5 headings down the page. – Caleb Aug 4 '18 at 5:57
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Did Pope Francis declare that according to the teaching of the Catholic Church capital punishment is intrinsically evil?

The short answer is no.

The choice of words regarding the Roman Pontiff's decision to try to abolish the death penalty is not strong enough to raise the death penalty to the fact that it is intrinsically evil in all situations.

The pope stated the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

According to the Cambridge Dictionary inadmissible is defined as the following:

Unable to be accepted, esp. in a law court:

The lie detector test was inadmissible as evidence in the case.

Or if one prefers the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Not able to be allowed or considered in a legal case : not admissible

What is an intrinsic evil?

Intrinsic evil is something which is always evil, no matter the circumstances or rationale. If an act is intrinsically evil, it cannot be justified by the intention or by the circumstances (the environment, social pressure, emergency situation, etc.)

Historically speaking the Church has allowed the use executions as a means for courts to protect its' citizens against serious evil doers.

What is the Catholic Church's historical position on capital punishment: how did we get here?

Some issues allow for a diversity of opinion, and Catholics are permitted leeway in endorsing or opposing particular policies. This is the case with the questions of when to go to war and when to apply the death penalty. Though the Church urges caution regarding both of these issues, it acknowledges that the state has the right to employ them in some circumstances (CCC 2309, 2267).

Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, spoke of this in a document dealing with when Catholics may receive Communion:

"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the -application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia" (WRHC 3). - Five Non-Negotiable Issues.

Pope Francis has yet to state that capital punishment is grounds for a Catholic not being to able to receive Holy Communion if one partakes in some legal form with a lawfully convicted criminal's execution. Therefore capital punishment is not an intrinsically evil act.

Even the new wording of the Catechism, as approved by Pope Francis, does not quite require Catholics to disapprove of the death penalty in all circumstances. The Pope’s new language does not contradict the time-honored Church teaching that the state has the authority to invoke the death penalty in appropriate circumstances. (That traditional teaching was clearly upheld, in the same section 2267 of the Catechism, even after Pope John Paul II called for a tighter restriction on executions.)

Nor does the revised Catechism teach that the use of capital punishment is intrinsically immoral. - Pope Francis and the death penalty: another dose of confusion

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Did Pope Francis declare that according to the teaching of the Catholic Church capital punishment is intrisically evil?

The straight answer is NO.

Did Pope Francis indeed declare the capital punishment to be intrisincally evil, that is, sinful under any and all circumstances, even if / when effective incarcerination is impossible?

The answer is NO again.

Or did he (merely?) state that since in contemporary times effective incarcerination is possible, it should always be used instead of capital punishment?

The answer is again NO.

This statement can be more inter-related to St.John Paul II during the development or changes in CCC2267 from 1992 to 1997.

Below is the excerpt of the reasons behind St.John Paul II changing the CCC2267 in 1997.

...under Pope John Paul II in 1992, says on the matter: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

The former formula does stipulate that if non-lethal means are sufficient to protect people’s safety from the aggressor, then authority must limit itself to it, as these “are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

In 1997, the Catechism was changed to reflect John Paul’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

The addition said that the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

Pope Francis changes teaching on death penalty, it’s ‘inadmissible’

With regards to Pope Francis reasons for adding additional changes to CCC2267 as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Spanish Cardinal Luis Ladaria.

According to Ladaria, the new formulation of the Catechism expresses “an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.”

As it’s been re-written, the Catechism now also says that “Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.”

Yet today, “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.”

“Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption,” reads the Catechism now, as it was approved by Francis.

It’s for this reason, and “in light of the Gospel,” that the Church teaches that the practice is now inadmissible.

In it, he explains the decision, saying it was Francis who on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism, had asked for the teaching on the death penalty to be reformulated to “better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point.”

Below are the statement of Pope Francis;

1.The Vatican said Thursday Aug. 2, 2018 that Pope Francis had changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the death penalty, saying it can never be sanctioned because it "attacks" the inherent dignity of all humans.

2.“The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,”

3.The pope’s words came on Oct. 11, when Pope Francis said that capital punishment “heavily wounds human dignity” and is an “inhuman measure.”

4.“It is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor,” he said.

The statement released by the Vatican’s press office says that Pope Francis approved the new changes to point number 2267 of the Catechism on May 11, 2018

Pope Francis changes teaching on death penalty, it’s ‘inadmissible’

Your other statement of inquiry can be answer directly by Catechism of the Catholic Church like;

The distinction seems to matter because the question whether in contemporary times the States can, in all, even most extreme cases, effectively protect the lives of their citizens without capital punishment seems to not belong to the scope of "morals and faith", which is the scope of the teaching of the Church.

Answer

Duties of civil authorities

2235 Those who exercise authority should do so as a service. "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant."41 The exercise of authority is measured morally in terms of its divine origin, its reasonable nature and its specific object. No one can command or establish what is contrary to the dignity of persons and the natural law.

2236 The exercise of authority is meant to give outward expression to a just hierarchy of values in order to facilitate the exercise of freedom and responsibility by all. Those in authority should practice distributive justice wisely, taking account of the needs and contribution of each, with a view to harmony and peace. They should take care that the regulations and measures they adopt are not a source of temptation by setting personal interest against that of the community.42

2237 Political authorities are obliged to respect the fundamental rights of the human person. They will dispense justice humanely by respecting the rights of everyone, especially of families and the disadvantaged.

The political rights attached to citizenship can and should be granted according to the requirements of the common good. They cannot be suspended by public authorities without legitimate and proportionate reasons. Political rights are meant to be exercised for the common good of the nation and the human community.

Lastly, your asking if your interpretation is correct citing your conclusion below:

However, I have feeling, in many cases, including this one, Pope Francis amends this part of the teaching of the Church, saying that physical violence may only be permissible as a response to immediate threat, but never to a recurring threat. Which is why it may still be permissible for a police officer to shoot down a Mafia hitman if in any other case this Mafia hitman would shoot down the police officer instead; but it is not permissible to sentence said hitman to capital punishment even if because of the ongoing war with Mafia rebels he cannot be effectively imprisoned for a prolonged time. Is this interpretation correct?

You personal interpretation is incorrect as the basis for the changes in CCC2267 does not reflect your examples.

The strong words and basis of Pope Francis is this;

With the papacy of Pope Francis, the issue came to the forefront again. He publicly expressed his support for the abolition of the death penalty in 2013 and 2014, and in 2015 used even stronger language:

Today capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the condemned’s crime may have been. [...] The death penalty is contrary to the meaning of humanitas and to divine mercy, which must be models for human justice. (letter to the International Commission against the Death Penalty)

Taken from Nathaniel's answer on a related question: What is the Catholic Church's historical position on capital punishment: how did we get here?.

In closing, Pope Francis core message is the heart of the Gospel which is the the Divine Mercy echoing the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The Mission of Christ in the gospel is to redeem all of us including all the sinners and He paid a high price for this. Jesus offered His very own life for all of us to restore sanctity and dignity of the life He had given us. Jesus is the Author of Life and we are commanded that no one can take the life of anyone. And there is no soul no matter how grave & heinous crime he committed that cannot be redeemed by the Most Precious Blood of Christ, but only if the sinner's like the Prodigal Son come to his senses and acknowledge his sins and mistakes and come forward to the loving & merciful embraced Abba Father. The language of Divine Mercy transcends orthodoxy it can only be fathom by men who reach the supernatural state.

This has been the advocacy of the two predecessor's of Pope Francis namely St.John Paul II the Great and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

It's no wonder why the Holy Spirit inspires Pope Francis to clear the gray area in the death penalty attributing it to the Infinite Mercy of God.

As Pope Francis clearly said;

"The Divine Mercy is Infinite but the Time of Mercy is Not".

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    I must say I don't completely understand your answer. 1) You say it is not true that death penalty is sinful even if other means of protecting common good are inaccessible; yet then you quote Pope Francis who says death penalty is inadmissible in all cases and himself compares his statement with previous teaching that it was admissible if other means couldn't be relied upon. 2) You say it is not true that according to the new teaching in contemporary times in no case would capital punishment be necessary; yet you yourself quote the development of the doctrine, where more and more (...contd) – gaazkam Aug 3 '18 at 21:43
  • ... more and more emphasis was placed on how hardly ever would death penalty be necessary, up to the recent complete prohibition. 3) You say my interpretation is incorrect as my examples don't reflect CCC; yet Pope Francis himself said: "In certain circumstances, when hostilities are underway, a measured reaction is necessary in order to prevent the aggressor from causing harm, and the need to neutralize the aggressor may result in his elimination; it is a case of legitimate defence" (con't) – gaazkam Aug 3 '18 at 21:43
  • ... source (perhaps - dealing with immediate threat), but he then followed up with reaffirming that "the prerequisites of legitimate personal defence are not applicable in the social sphere without the risk of distortion" and even more importantly, recently forbade capital punishment (when the criminal no longer poses an immediate threat) under all circumstances. --- I'm sorry, I just don't understand your answer and I'd like to - hence this wall of comments. – gaazkam Aug 3 '18 at 21:43
  • @gaazkam You don't understand the reasons or you don't want to accept the reasons?It is plainly stated and no complicated words. In fact Pope Francis removes the gray area anymore by saying "all" death penalty is "inadmissable". Nothing more nothing less.And Pope Francis put emphasis on the Gospel teaching and said “only God can be the true judge and guarantor,” – jong ricafort Aug 5 '18 at 13:50
  • I've enumerated 3 places in which, to my understanding, your answer contradicts itself. If I see an answer that seems to be to contradict itself, I reason I don't understand that answer and post a comment :) – gaazkam Aug 5 '18 at 14:51

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