Understanding the change in death penalty teaching

With Thursday’s announcement from the Congregation of the Doctrine on the Faith about a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, people have questions. What does this change to the Church’s teaching on the death penalty mean? How can the Catechism be changed?

Offering insight and clarity into this issue, Father Francis Hoffman (Father Rocky), canon lawyer and Executive Director at Relevant Radio®, made the following statement:

Yesterday Pope Francis updated the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty.  It is now inadmissible.  This is the second time this paragraph on the death penalty has been revised since the original publication of the Catechism in 1992.  The first time was in 1995 after Saint John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.”  At that time Pope John Paul II specified that the need to use the death penalty was “rare, if non existent.”  Now the Church teaches that it is inadmissible.

This change represents a prudential judgment by Pope Francis on the practical application of the fifth commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, in the contemporary context of the Church’s pro –life efforts and defense of human dignity.  Jesus did the same with the woman caught in adultery.  This is a change in application of the law, not a change in dogma.

This change does not affect the Church’s teaching about legitimate use of lethal force in non-penal situations of self-defense.

This news will be welcomed by many, but not by all.  At Relevant Radio we will abide by these teachings and pass them along to our audience in a spirit of joyful support of the Holy Father’s teaching mission.  In the words of St. Josemaria, “Together with Peter, let us all go to Jesus through Mary.”

Finally, changes in the Catechism do happen from time to time.  The second edition of the Catechism notably incorporated changes on the definition of lying and the personal moral culpability for sexual sin.

We pray for the day when all human life, from conception to natural death, may be protected in law, and nurtured by all.

Father Rocky
Executive Director

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.