Pope declares death penalty 'inadmissible' in all cases

Pope Francis prays during an audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican

Pope Francis prays during an audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican

The Vatican said yesterday it had changed its universal catechism, a summary of Church teaching, to reflect Pope Francis' total opposition to capital punishment.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a text that summarizes Catholic doctrine - the teaching of the Catholic faith and what Catholics throughout the world believe - in the context of history and tradition.

Speaking in October, he acknowledged that the Vatican itself had historically had "recourse to the extreme and inhuman remedy" of judicial execution, but said past doctrinal errors should be put aside.

What has it changed from?

The 1.2 billion-member Church has allowed the death penalty in extreme cases for centuries, but began to change its stance under Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005. New systems of detention and sanctions have been developed that don't deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption, it added.

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Here in Louisiana, there's been a debate about the death penalty in recent weeks, after a federal judge approved a one-year extension to an order that has prevented the state from carrying out executions.

"There is no doubt the pope wants politicians to pay attention to this", said John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group in Washington. Robert Vischer, dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, noted that Republicans nearly uniformly support the death penalty and Democrats nearly uniformly support the legal right to abortion.

The Argentine pontiff, who had hinted previous year that such a change might come, has described the church's stance on the death penalty as evidence of how the Vatican can evolve - in this case, over the course of a generation.

The only place in Europe where it is still legal is Belarus, which has a sizeable Catholic minority of about 7% of the population.

Sotto, a Catholic, authored one of eight bills pending in a Senate committee seeking to reimpose death penalty, which was abolished in the Philippines in 2006.

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Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo removed capital punishment in June 2006 with her signature on Republic Act 9346, or "An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty in the Philippines".

The move could also set off a backlash among Catholic traditionalists who already cast Francis as being dangerously inclined to change or compromise church teaching on other issues, such as permitting communion for Catholics who have divorced and remarried without getting a church annulment.

"It's something that the New York State bishops have been against and working toward the ending of capital punishment", he said.

Some on social media questioned the timing of the announcement, given that the Vatican and the Catholic Church are under extraordinary fire over clerical sex abuse and how bishops around the world covered it up for decades. In 2016, just 54 percent of the country supported the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, the lowest recorded approval rating ever in the United States. "That is not being taken away here, but they can do that in other ways".

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