From the quick reaction in some quarters to the Vatican’s announcement that the Catechism of the Catholic Church will henceforth state that the death penalty is “inadmissible,” one might think Pope Francis had just ordered the execution of a lineup of conservative theologians.
The website One Peter Five featured a big photo of a snarling wolf above the headline, “Heresy in the Catechism. Wolf in the Vatican. No Shepherds in Sight.” The anti-abortion Lifesite News went with the more traditional “Pope’s change to Catechism contradicts natural law and the deposit of Faith.”
But those who consider themselves pro-life ought to be pleased with this change in the Catechism because it furthers St. John Paul II’s teachings on the importance of recognizing the dignity of every human life, in all its stages. “This development centers principally on the clearer awareness of the Church for the respect due to every human life,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a letter to bishops. “Along this line, John Paul II affirmed: ‘Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.’”
That quote appears in John Paul’s encyclical Evangelium vitae, a reference to God’s decision to allow Cain to live. As the Vatican congregation noted, that encyclical elsewhere describes growing public opposition to the death penalty as one of the “signs of hope” for the defense of life, which John Paul wrote is endangered by abortion, euthanasia, war, and environmental damage. This was how he framed his vision of a vast conflict between a “culture of death” and a “culture of life.”