The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has voted to change the section of its Catechism for Adults which deals with the death penalty. By a vote of 194 to eight, with three abstentions, the bishops agreed on a new text which strengthens the condemnation of the death penalty. It describes the practice as “inadmissible”.
Why was it under-reported?
The vote, which took place at the bishops’ spring assembly, was overshadowed by the more headline-grabbing topics on the agenda – in particular, their measures to address the abuse crisis.
Moreover, its significance was downplayed by the bishop who produced the new text. Bishop Robert Barron, who chairs the committee on catechesis, said the vote was not on the death penalty, but on whether the new text reflected Pope Francis’s change to the Catechism, which also uses the word “inadmissible”.
What will happen next?
The word “inadmissible” has already caused controversy. It is, as Bishop Barron acknowledged in passing, ambiguous. Some interpret the word as a statement about today’s governments being too unreliable to administer the death penalty. Others believe it is a claim that the death penalty is always and everywhere immoral.
The latter interpretation has caused alarm because, as more than 30 philosophers argued in an open letter last year, such a claim appears to contradict Scripture and Church teaching. Expect the debate to go on.
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