I’ve seen a lot of confusion in the past year about the Church’s new teaching on the death penalty that was issued last summer when Pope Francis changed paragraph 2267 of the Catechism. One of the key misconceptions I’ve heard is that this new teaching is simply the prudential opinion of the pope and therefore nothing has actually changed and Catholics are free to respectfully disagree. However, I think an attentive reading of the new teaching quickly refutes this misunderstanding.
This isn’t the first time paragraph 2267 has been changed. The Catechism was first published in 1992, and that edition had this to say about the death penalty:
“If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”
In other words, capital punishment is only allowed when a society isn’t capable of isolating violent criminals from the community.