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Pope Francis rules out death penalty in change to Church teaching

Pope Francis says Catholic Church will strive for abolition of capital punishment across the world

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

The Catholic Church has declared itself against the death penalty, saying “it is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”.

In a statement, the Vatican said the Church revised its Catechism on the death penalty and will work “with determination for its abolition worldwide”.

In comments to The Shift News, Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna welcomed the move. “A welcome development in the radical witness to a culture that promotes the sanctity and dignity of human life,” he said.

According to Amnesty International, there were at least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries in 2017, a significant decrease from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016. At least 21,919 people were known to be on death row at the end of 2017.

It noted at least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down by 4% from 2016 (1,032 executions) and 39% from 2015 (when the organization reported 1,634 executions, the highest number since 1989).

The Vatican noted that the use of 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”.

However, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes and 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”.

Last year, 53 countries issued death sentences with most executions in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. In the United States, 23 people were executed, a slight increase from 2016 but a low number compared to historical trends, Amnesty said.

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