Pope Francis’s recent comments on life are drawing both praise and criticism from across the political spectrum. Francis has come out in support of life at all stages, reiterating the Catholic Church’s long-standing opposition to abortion. However, Francis went further than usual, also stating that the death penalty is unacceptable.
The Vatican followed suit, revising the Catechism to rule out the death penalty. The Catechism is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. Thus, any Catholic politician, leader, or religious figure who supports the death penalty does so in opposition to official Church doctrine.
Pope Francis’s recent remarks do not mark the first time that he has spoken out against the death penalty. However, up until the Catechism’s revision, his opinions were merely his opinions. Now, they are official church doctrine.
The updated Catechism could lead to some thorny political debates. Catholic politicians are often among the most vocal supporters of the death penalty. Many Catholic judges have also generally supported the death penalty. If they continue to do so, their faith could be called into question.
This issue could be especially interesting for Brett Kavanaugh, whom Donald Trump nominated to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is known for being a practicing and faithful Catholic. How would he react to the update in Church policy? This question is especially important because the Supreme Court has generally upheld the death penalty in multiple cases.
The death penalty is often supported by conservative politicians who have also been the most vocal about restricting and potentially outlawing abortion. Interestingly, Pew Research has found that while 53 percent of Catholics support the death penalty, 42 percent oppose it. Among the larger population, 54 percent of Americans support the death penalty, while 39 percent oppose it. So far, most Catholic politicians have remained mute on the recent Catechism update.
During the Inquisition in the late-Middle Ages, the Catholic Church often put people to death for religious crimes and reasons. This makes the Catechism update all the more interesting.
As for me, I’m not against the death penalty in principle, but I am generally against it in practice. Weird, right? Some crimes are so horrific, such as carrying out a mass shooting, that I wouldn’t lose sleep over the criminal being executed. Choices have consequences, after all, and if you’re willing to take another’s life illegally, you should be willing to lose your own. However, our Justice system is far from perfect and people are often wrongly convicted.
Just think about all the stories of life sentences being overturned. Often, these individuals have lost decades of their life, but at least they still have life. However, when someone is executed, there is no recourse. Consider the case of Carlos DeLuna, executed in 1989. Evidence has since emerged that DeLuna was innocent, and another man, Carlos Hernandez, later confessed to committing the murder.
It seems almost certain that at least some innocent people have been executed over the last 50 years. For this reason, I generally oppose the use of the death penalty. If the death penalty continues to be carried out, I believe that it should only be under extreme circumstances.