Pope Francis has implored the church to take a stronger stance against capital punishment. Describing capital punishment as an 'inhuman measure' that 'heavily wounds human dignity', he said that previous church teaching is in need of development.
Addressing members of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Pope called for the topic to be given 'a more adequate and coherent space' within the Catholic Church.
He went on to remark that capital punishment is fundamentally contrary to the gospel, arguing that all human life is sacred before God who is the only 'true judge and guarantor'.
He said that in addition to ending a life, capital punishment also eliminates an individual's opportunity for repentance and the potential of a new, holy life.
The church's current stance on capital punishment, he said, reflects increased 'social maturity' and as such, church teaching is not static but adapts in response to modern questions.
Speaking at an event marking 25 years since the Catechism of the Catholic Church yesterday, he reiterated that regardless of the severity of the crime, capital punishment is unjustifiable because it 'attacks the inviolability and dignity of the person.'
Up until Pope Paul VI officially prohibited it in 1969, the church endorsed the death penalty.
Pope Francis described past use of the death penalty as 'dictated by a mentality that was more legalistic than Christian.'
Christianity, he said, has always emphasised the dignity of human life right from conception to natural death. Therefore, the church is obliged to accept responsibility and acknowledge that previously accepted practices were contrary to church teaching.
The first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published by St. John Paul II in 1992 but amended five years later recognised 'as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty'.