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Today, August 2, our Holy Father, Francis, announced a formal revision of the Catholic Catechism’s teaching on the death penalty and capital punishment. The rescript made public today sees Francis issue a significant edit of the 1994 final text of the Catechism entry -- now deeming capital punishment “inadmissible”. The new formulation reads as follows:
The following document gives context and the historical development of this teaching:
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
Letter to the Bishops
regarding the new revision of number 2267
of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
on the death penalty
1. The Holy Father Pope Francis, in his Discourse on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum, by which John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, asked that the teaching on the death penalty be reformulated so as to better reflect the development of the doctrine on this point that has taken place in recent times. This development centers principally on the clearer awareness of the Church for the respect due to every human life. Along this line, John Paul II affirmed: “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.”
2. It is in the same light that one should understand the attitude towards the death penalty that is expressed ever more widely in the teaching of pastors and in the sensibility of the people of God. 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 that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes, the deepened understanding of the significance of penal sanctions applied by the State, and the development of more efficacious detention systems that guarantee the due protection of citizens have given rise to a new awareness that recognizes the inadmissibility of the death penalty and, therefore, calling for its abolition.
3. In this development, the teaching of the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitæ of John Paul II is of great importance. The Holy Father enumerated among the signs of hope for a new culture of life “a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of ‘legitimate defense’ on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform.” The teaching of Evangelium vitæ was then included in the editio typica of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In it, the death penalty is not presented as a proportionate penalty for the gravity of the crime, but it can be justified if it is “the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor,” even if in reality “cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender today are very rare, if not practically non-existent” (n. 2267).
4. John Paul II also intervened on other occasions against the death penalty, appealing both to respect for the dignity of the person as well as to the means that today’s society possesses to defend itself from criminals. Thus, in the Christmas Message of 1998, he wished “the world the consensus concerning the need for urgent and adequate measures … to end the death penalty.” The following month in the United States, he repeated, “A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”
5. The motivation to be committed to the abolition of the death penalty was continued with the subsequent Pontiffs. Benedict XVI recalled “the attention of society’s leaders to the need to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty.” He later wished a group of the faithful that “your deliberations will encourage the political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”
6. In this same prospective, Pope Francis has reaffirmed that “today capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the condemned’s crime may have been.” The death penalty, regardless of the means of execution, “entails cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.” Furthermore, it is to be rejected “due to the defective selectivity of the criminal justice system and in the face of the possibility of judicial error.” It is in this light that Pope Francis has asked for a revision of the formulation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty in a manner that affirms that “no matter how serious the crime that has been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”
7. The new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope Francis, situates itself in continuity with the preceding Magisterium while bringing forth a coherent development of Catholic doctrine. The new text, following the footsteps of the teaching of John Paul II in Evangelium vitæ, affirms that ending the life of a criminal as punishment for a crime is inadmissible because it attacks the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes. This conclusion is reached taking into account the new understanding of penal sanctions applied by the modern State, which should be oriented above all to the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the criminal. Finally, given that modern society possesses more efficient detention systems, the death penalty becomes unnecessary as protection for the life of innocent people. Certainly, it remains the duty of public authorities to defend the life of citizens, as has always been taught by the Magisterium and is confirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in numbers 2265 and 2266.
8. All of this shows that the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium. These teachings, in fact, can be explained in the light of the primary responsibility of the public authority to protect the common good in a social context in which the penal sanctions were understood differently, and had developed in an environment in which it was more difficult to guarantee that the criminal could not repeat his crime.
9. The new revision affirms that the understanding of the inadmissibility of the death penalty grew “in the light of the Gospel.” The Gospel, in fact, helps to understand better the order of creation that the Son of God assumed, purified, and brought to fulfillment. It also invites us to the mercy and patience of the Lord that gives to each person the time to convert oneself.
10. The new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church desires to give energy to a movement towards a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.
The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 28 June 2018, has approved the present Letter, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation on 13 June 2018, and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1 August 2018, Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori.
Luis F. Card. Ladaria, S.I.
X Giacomo Morandi
Titular Archbishop of Cerveteri
 Cf. Francis, Address to participants in the meeting promoted by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization(11 October 2017): L’Osservatore Romano (13 October 2017), 4.
 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitæ (25 March 1995), n. 9: AAS 87 (1995), 411.
 Ibid., n. 27: AAS 87 (1995), 432.
 John Paul II, Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II: Christmas 1998 (25 December 1998), n. 5: Insegnamenti XXI,2 (1998), 1348.
 Id., Homily in the Trans World Dome of St. Louis (27 January 1999): Insegnamenti XXII,1 (1999), 269; cf. Homily for Mass in the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Mexico City (23 January 1999): “There must be an end to the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty”: Insegnamenti XXII,1 (1999), 123.
 Benedict XVI, Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Africæ munus (19 November 2011), n. 83: AAS 104 (2012), 276.
 Id., General Audience (30 November 2011): Insegnamenti VII,2 (2011), 813.
 Francis, Letter to the President of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty (20 March 2015): L’Osservatore Romano (20-21 March 2015), 7.
 Francis, Address to participants in the meeting promoted by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization (11 October 2017): L’Osservatore Romano (13 October 2017), 5.
 Cf. Vincent of Lérins, Commonitorium, cap. 23: PL 50, 667-669. In reference to the death penalty, treating the stipulations of the precepts of the Decalogue, the Pontifical Biblical Commission spoke of the “refinement” of the moral positions of the Church: “In the course of history and of the development of civilization, the Church too, meditating on the Scriptures, has refined her moral stance on the death penalty and on war, which is now becoming more and more absolute. Underlying this stance, which may seem radical, is the same anthropological basis, the fundamental dignity of the human person, created in the image of God.” (The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, 2008, n. 98).
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, The Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 4.
[01210-EN.01] [Original text: Italian]
Catholic Response to Reunification Crisis -- Many of us have felt somewhat helpless as we have watched the reports of families separated on our borders this summer and the difficulties they have faced as they waited to be reunited. The crisis continues -- but I think it is important to know that something is being done by Catholic Charities in the border dioceses, by the USCCB Office of Migration and Refugee Services, and by the Catholic Extension Society. By the support that you and I give to Catholic Charities (Cleveland Diocese) locally we are joined to the efforts of the Catholic Charities organizations in the border areas. Our Catholic Charities is part of the network of shared services and monetary support that makes this response to the crisis possible. We hope that you will find the article reprinted below informative. Frs. Rosing, Ausperk, and Klonowski.
A woman holds up a sign June 21 near a detention facility where children of migrants were being at the port of entry in Tornillo, Texas. (CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters)
By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — In public and behind the scenes of a court order that immigrant families separated by the U.S. government be reunited by the end of July 26, the Catholic Church, from its leadership to its charitable and advocacy organizations, worked around the clock to speed up the effort, while also calling for a stop to the policy that led to the ordeal.
Catholic humanitarian organizations rushed to collect material help, bishops loudly denounced the separation policy, and groups such as Catholic Extension established a fund to shelter, feed and defend some of the separated immigrant families.
By the end of deadline day, when the more than 2,500 children separated were supposed to have been reunited with family members, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said 1,442 of them had found their way to a loved one and said the rest did not have an “eligible” family member to go to. The number of families the government reported reuniting by the following morning increased to 1,800 by some counts, but many say it’s too early to paint a clear picture of who’s been reunited.
Away from Washington, where the crisis began with a “zero tolerance” memo implemented in April, at places dealing head-on with the crisis it created — such as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas — staff and volunteers were still seeing affected families trickle in on July 27, said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. The Texas facility served as a safe physical space for families to be reunited following their release.
In a July 27 telephone briefing organized by the National Immigration Forum, Feasley said about 500 separated families passed through Catholic affiliated centers, such as Catholic Charities, in places such as McAllen, San Antonio and Phoenix. Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, also helped.
The Catholic Charities center in the border town of McAllen, at least, was expecting to see more of the separated families passing through into the weekend following the deadline, Feasley said.
Though there were joyous reunions, “they are very traumatized people,” said Feasley.
Once immigration officials deemed the children could be reunited with the adults, they were taken to the “staging facilities,” such as Catholic Charities, where they were given temporary shelter, if they needed it, a hot meal, a change of clothes, access to a shower and sometimes assistance so they could continue their travels toward the home of family or friends, Feasley said.
But the weight of what had happened, plus arduous overnight travel for children and adults, as the government pushed to meet the deadline, left many of the affected family members visibly exhausted by the time authorities handed them over to Catholic aid organizations, she said.
Yet those were the fortunate ones. About a third of those who were separated remain apart, with the government saying they are “ineligible” for reunification.
“And it’s unclear what that means,” said Cathleen Farrell, director of communications for the National Immigration Forum.
Some adults apprehended when the separation policy went into place, possibly about 400 to 500 of them, have been deported, making it unclear what will happen to their children.
While Catholic aid groups, along with other faith-based entities, such as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Bethany Christian Services, were busy tending to the needs of the families following their ordeal, other church groups were calling for answers, pressing the government for action in reuniting the remainder.
“The administration alone started this problem and has a moral obligation to reunite all the families they separated, not just the ones they deem acceptable or can currently locate,” said Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies and the Scalabrini International Migration Network. “Just imagine if families were separated at the time of Christ. The baby Jesus could have been taken from the arms of the Holy Mother in the Gospel of Matthew, as they fled the terror of Herod into Egypt.”
Groups such as the Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team called on people of faith and others to contact members of Congress urging them to stop policies “criminalizing immigrants,” such as the “zero tolerance” policy that created the crisis.
Though family separation had been practiced before, immigration authorities, following orders by the Trump administration, began taking children away from parents or relatives in greater numbers as they were caught trying to cross the border with Mexico in June, even if they were entering seeking asylum.
“At the end of the day, the ‘zero tolerance’ policy should be stopped altogether, as these families are not a threat, first, and should not be subject to long term detention, second. They are bona fide asylum seekers, not criminals, and should be treated accordingly,” said Appleby.
What happens to the families now is anyone’s guess but their plight is not over, as many have to figure out a way to grapple with the emotional toll of what’s happened and get ready for court dates to deal with their undefined immigration situation.
Chief among the uncertainties surrounding the crisis that didn’t come to an end because of a deadline, is what will happen to families who will continue to cross over. The administration has said it wants to practice family detention for illegal border crossers.
“(U.S.) bishops remain extremely concerned,” said Feasley, adding that for the moment, the main concern is for the well-being of those affected, and to try to do what’s possible “to make these families whole again.”
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