Pope Francis changes Vatican’s stance on death penalty

Pope Francis is changing the Vatican’s stance on the death penalty, with the Roman Catholic Church declaring inadmissible in all cases.

The Catechism teaching on capital punishment was changed on Thursday and now says the practice is "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”.

The Vatican is working to have the death penalty abolished worldwide, reflecting the pope’s total opposition to it, it announced in a statement.

Previously, the catechism, a summary of Church teaching, had allowed the death penalty in extreme cases for centuries.

The new provision is expected to run into stiff opposition from Catholics in countries such as the US, where many Catholics support the death penalty.

In addition to America, capital punishment is still used in more than 50 countries including Japan, China and India, although some nations are far more active than others.

The death penalty has been abolished in every European country except Belarus and Russia, which has a moratorium on the practice and hasn’t executed a prisoner in almost 20 years.

According to death penalty opponent Amnesty International, 106 countries – including Pope Francis’ native Argentina – had completely abolished the practice by the end of 2017, with Burkina Faso joining them in 2018.

China was the world’s top executioner in 2017, followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan, according to Amnesty International.

It said the exact number of executions in China is unknown because it is classified as a state secret.

Worldwide, at least 993 people were put to death in 23 countries last year for crimes including murder and drug trafficking, but the figure doesn’t include those carried out in China, the organisation said.

The 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church had allowed the death penalty in extreme cases for centuries, but the position began to change under Pope John Paul II before he died in 2005.

On Thursday, the Vatican said it had changed its universal catechism, a summary of Church teaching, to reflect 81-year-old Pope Francis’ total opposition to capital punishment.

The change was enacted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the body responsible for promulgating and defending Catholic doctrine.

Last week, Japan executed six members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult which carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway in March 1995.

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Fourteen people have been executed in the US this year for murder, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center.

It has been more than 50 years since the last prisoners were put to death in the UK.

Peter Allen, 21, and Gwynne Evans, 24, were hanged at separate prisons – Walton and Strangeways – on August 13, 1964 for robbing and murdering laundry worker John West.

Their deaths came a year and three months before the death penalty for murder in Great Britain was suspended for five years – and and replaced with a mandatory life sentence – under the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965. The act became permanent four years later.

The death penalty for murder in Northern Ireland was abolished in 1973.

The so-called "Bloody Code" remained for crimes including espionage and treason until it was fully abolished in 1998.

Britain is now barred from restoring the death penalty as long as it is a member of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Opponents such as Amnesty International argue that the practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, and violates a person’s human rights.

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