Pope Francis has changed church teaching about the death penalty, saying in a new policy published Thursday it's always "inadmissible" because it "attacks" the inherent dignity of all humans. The Vatican says Francis has approved a change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the compilation of official Catholic Church teaching. Previously, the catechism said the church didn't exclude recourse to capital punishment "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor," per the AP. The new teaching, contained in Catechism No. 2267, says the previous policy is outdated and that there are other ways to protect the common good. "Consequently 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," reads the new text, approved in May.
In a letter, the head of the Vatican's doctrine office says the development of Catholic doctrine on capital punishment didn't contradict prior teaching but was an evolution of it. Francis has long railed against the death penalty, insisting it can never be justified, no matter how heinous the crime. During his 2015 US visit, he told Congress he'd long advocated "for the global abolition of the death penalty," per the New York Times. He announced his intention to change church teaching on capital punishment last October, when he noted the death penalty violates the Gospel and amounts to the voluntary killing of a human life, which "is always sacred in the eyes of the creator." He acknowledged in the past even the Papal States had allowed this "extreme and inhuman recourse," but he said the Holy See had erred in allowing a mentality that was "more legalistic than Christian" and now knew better. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)