What the heck does this sentence added to the Catechism mean?

In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.


What new understanding? What significance? What sanctions? Is this even a complete sentence?

  • 1
    Colloquially, in politics, a 'new understanding' generally means a change (usually a reversal) of policy.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 13, 2021 at 5:24
  • I am just as confused as you are, and so do many people, illustrated by this long (but substantial) blog article from Thomistica containing links to responses by prominent Catholic scholars like Ed Feser, Thomas Petri. Especially pertinent are the 3 thoughts on the new language by Tony Montanaro in the comment section. Jan 13, 2021 at 15:53

2 Answers 2


The strange thing about death penalty is that there is no uniformity across the nations on the crimes to which it is applicable, level of the court which is competent to award it, different authorities to whom appeal can be made, and the manner by which the convict is put to death in execution of the penalty. India, for instance, is a secular nation where death penalty is in vogue, but is to be awarded in rarest of the rare ' cases. The convict is given a fair trail, and is mandated to appeal to the Apex Court and then to seek mercy from the President . It takes years together to complete the legal process and to execute the convict, so that nothing is left to speculation that he/she had not been given a fair chance to prove innocence, or to seek a lesser penalty. Unfortunately, that is not the case with all nations across the world. A visit to the website of Amnesty International is enough to convince one that death penalty which once executed is irreversible, that many innocent people have gone to the gallows for lack of fair trial, and that a number of nations prescribe death penalty for crimes such as smuggling of drugs for which other penalties could be given. Now, one cannot expect the draft-makers of Catechism to have a quintessential summary of all the arguments for and against imposition of death penalty . Naturally, they may have chosen to limit the arguments to a few words viz. ``new understanding."

  • I like your answer and reasoning. What I was concerned about was whether the "new understanding" comes from experiences in Europe and the Americas or the rest of the world. I've heard pretty horrible stories about the death penalty is imposed by mobs in Malawi.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 19, 2021 at 14:20
  • Thanks. The Church should, and is keen to learn from the Good Practices adopted across all nations of the world, irrespective of whether Catholics are in minority in the respective nation , or not. But my personal view is that the Church should not blindly support putting an end to capital punishment, especially in those cases where dignity of the victim and of her/his family is involved. For instance, the family of a girl who is gang-raped and murdered , would, if given a chance, finish off the culprits. It is up to the state to ensure justice to the victim and the family. Jan 20, 2021 at 4:02
  • Rev Graham Steins, an Australian Missionary and two sons were burnt alive in India in 1999 by religious fundamentalists. Trial court awarded death sentence to the leader of the mob, but higher courts commuted it to life imprisonment. Mrs. Steins reacted to the final verdict thus: " Because of forgiveness I hold no bitterness towards the persons who killed my family. Forgiveness brought healing which is needed everywhere from hatred and violence. But forgiveness does not change the consequences for wrong. Forgiveness and the consequences of our wrongdoing should not be mixed up.". Jan 20, 2021 at 4:14

This is the reasoning:

This conclusion is reached taking into account the new understanding of penal sanctions applied by the modern State, which should be oriented above all to the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the criminal.

-Letter to the Bishops regarding the new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty

The letter goes on to state that prior Church teaching applied in "a social context in which the penal sanctions were understood differently, and had developed in an environment in which it was more difficult to guarantee that the criminal could not repeat his crime."

The CDF is basically claiming that we now know that criminal penalties are for rehabilitation and social reintegration, not for retribution, deterrence, prevention, and the like. Francis has been using this same sort of reasoning to argue against life sentences. I am not agreeing with the decision; I am only explaining the phrase.

  • Some criminals can not be rehabilitated or can be integrated into society again. History shows this to be the case. How can doing so by what you are claiming on behalf of the CDF: ”The CDF is basically claiming that we now know that criminal penalties are for rehabilitation and social reintegration”. This is your interpretation to a complex situation. I have volunteered many years to souls on death row and not all wish to be rehabilitated. Some admittingly say they would kill again if released. How can a blanket meaning be viable in all situations.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 22, 2021 at 6:26
  • 1
    One wonders if anyone in America or any other part of the world ever thought that Bin Laden could be caught alive, given a trial, sentenced and reformed. Similar would be the case of bomber of Oklahoma who of course, was made to stand trial. Jan 22, 2021 at 11:40

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