The Pope Changed the Catholic Church’s Position on the Death Penalty. Will the Supreme Court Follow?
When Pope Francis changed the Catholic Church’s position on the death penalty from permitting it in very rare circumstances to now deeming it completely “inadmissible” and violative of the “dignity of the person,” it reflected and reinforced a stunning decline of capital punishment worldwide in recent decades. In 1970, fewer than 20 nations were fully abolitionist. Today, more than two-thirds of the world’s roughly 200 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. As a practical matter, executions are confined to a handful of nations. Five countries — China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — carried out well over 90% of last year’s executions. The Pope’s emphasis on human dignity underscores the predominant rationale for jettisoning the death penalty: the growing consensus that state killing runs afoul of basic respect for human rights. But the utility of this premise is somewhat limited in the nations that still practice capital punishment, including the United States.
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