In a recent action, Pope Francis has set up a commission to review whether there is any moral justification for using capital punishment today. Currently the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not exclude the use of the death penalty in extreme cases, but notes that cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” (No. 2267) This teaching reflects a half century development within the Church regarding capital punishment. This commission could recommend further changes.
St. John Paul II took a more abolitionist stance on capital punishment in 1999 when he appealed for a global consensus to end the death penalty because it is both “cruel and unnecessary.” Pope Benedict XVI made a similar appeal in November 2011. While Pope Francis has also spoken out against the use of the death penalty, he has moved beyond his predecessors’ positions and advocates for abolition from convictions of faith. On Feb. 21, 2016 he reminded the United Nations that “the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.”
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