On October 3, 2020, Pope Francis issued a new encyclical entitled Fratelli Tutti (“All Brothers”), which ratified the position of the Catholic Church against the death penalty and called upon all Catholics to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide. As the highest form of papal communication, an encyclical offers guiding principles to help the faithful better apply the teachings of scripture and the Catholic tradition. Fratelli Tutti is the third encyclical Pope Francis has issued since becoming pope in 2013.
Despite the Catholic Church’s centuries-long history of death penalty opposition, previous popes have left room in their formal positions to allow for the use of lawful executions in exceptional cases. Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), condemned capital punishment except “in cases of absolute necessity” which were said to be “very rare, if not practically non-existent.” He called for its abolition just four years later.
Building upon this precedent, the abolition of the death penalty has always been among Pope Francis’ top priorities. In 2018, Pope Francis revised the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, a doctrinal manual used for teaching Catholic children and converts worldwide, to describe the death penalty as “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” that is “inadmissible” in all cases.