Pope Says Death Penalty 'Inadmissible' in All Cases in Major Catechism Reform

The Catholic Church has declared the death penalty "inadmissible" in all cases, in a major reform of the faith's catechism.

The new ruling said the death penalty is "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person" and called for new methods to protect the common good and replace outdated capital punishment, The New York Times reported.

The new text was approved in May and published Thursday. It says the church will work for the abolition of the death penalty across the globe. The catechism is a short and approachable guide to the beliefs of the Catholic faith, covering every important topic. It was first published by Pope John Paul II in 1992.

Pope Francis delivers a speech after a meeting with Patriarchs of the churches of the Middle East at the St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari, southern Italy, on July 7. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Pope Francis has been vocal in his criticism of the death penalty and has now managed to line up the entire church behind him. He said he would change the church's stance on the matter last October, arguing that capital punishment means the voluntary killing of a human life, which "is always sacred in the eyes of the creator."

The updated catechism notes there is "an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes." It adds that "more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption."

Previously, the catechism was sympathetic to capital punishment "if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor." However, it did note that "cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender today are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the head of the Vatican's doctrine office, said the stance was an evolution of the previous position, rather than a contradiction. "If, in fact, the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding is that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes," he explained.

The pope has received many plaudits for his approach to social issues, which is far more liberal than that of most of his predecessors. While the international community has largely approved of his methods, some conservative Catholics have been critical.

Francis has visited prison inmates on almost every foreign trip, bringing with him a message of solidarity, hope and redemption. The pope says he remains in touch with Argentine inmates he visited during his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires.