WASHINGTON (September 11, 1997) -- The U.S. Bishops welcome Pope John Paul II's strengthening Church teaching against the death penalty in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The modified position, in which the Catechism calls on authorities to limit themselves to "non-lethal" means of punishment, was highlighted in a statement from Bishop William S. Skylstad, Chairman of the U.S. Catholic Conference Committee for Domestic Policy, which represents the U.S. Bishops on domestic social issues.
The Pope approved the modification to the Catechism September 8.
The modification notes that Church teaching holds that the death penalty should not be used when "non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor" because, it said, "these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person."
The modification, which quoted from the Pope's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), said that given the means available today to keep criminals from doing harm, "the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'"
The Pope issued Evangelium Vitae in 1995, three years after the Catechism of the Catholic Church was distributed worldwide. The Catechism was the first update of the summary of Catholic teaching in about 400 years.