The Roman Catholic Church says it has changed its teaching to declare the death penalty “inadmissible” to reflect that all life is sacred and there is no justification for state-sponsored executions.
The Vatican said on Thursday Pope Francis approved the revision to say that capital punishment constitutes an “attack” on the dignity of human beings.
The change will be reflected in the most important guide to church teaching, the catechism.
Previously, the catechism said the church did not exclude recourse to capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor”.
In an accompanying letter explaining the change, Cardinal Ladaria, head of the Vatican’s doctrine, said the development of Catholic doctrine on capital punishment did not contradict prior teaching but rather was an evolution of it.
Pope Francis has long railed against the death penalty. In March 2015 letter to the president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, he wrote, “Today, capital punishment is unacceptable, however, serious the condemned’s crime may have been.”
The letter added: “It entails cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”
In the United States, 23 people were executed, a slight increase from 2016 but a low number compared with historical trends, Amnesty said.
Among Americans, 54 percent favour the punishment for people convicted of murder, while 39 percent are opposed, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted this year.
Capital punishment is banned in most of Europe, with Belarus being the only European country that carried out executions in 2017, Amnesty said.
By the end of last year, 106 countries worldwide had banned the death penalty.
But this week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could soon move to reinstate the death penalty, which it had abolished in 2004 as part of the country’s bid to join the European Union.