I have long wanted to make a long post on the subject of Pope Francis’s revision on CCC 2267, since getting into all the details would require a paper of great length. However, some people brought this question up enough for me to put a very short and brief answer to this question of whether the new revised paragraph is effectively teaching that the death penalty is intrinsically evil.
In short, no.
As a preliminary remark, I don’t pretend to know exactly what Pope Francis’s personal and private beliefs are on this whole subject. It would appear that he has far deeper views than what came out in the Catechism revision, as can be possibly deduced by his many public statements on the matter. But I’m strictly interested in observing what occurred in his revising of CCC 2267.
We know with absolute certainty that the Pope is not saying that the death penalty is intrinsically evil because if the Pope were to have taught this he would have also had to revise CCC 2263, 2264, and 2265. All of these paragraphs justify killing someone if it is required to either protect oneself or protect the common good. When it is not required to kill the human being in order to either protect yourself or protect the common good, then non-lethal means are obligatory. That is the rationale behind the old version of 2267, which was aiming at excluding the death penalty when non-lethal means can secure protection of the common good, and not excluding it when lethal means are the only choice to secure the same.
The new 2267 does not revoke the logic nor the moral principle of defense which is inherent in 2263, 2264, and 2265, and therefore the revision does not invite into the Catechism the idea that killing to protect the common good is intrinsically evil. Rather, just along the same line of reasoning as the old 2267, the new revision seeks to absolutely exclude lethal means of punishing criminals in light of the fact that protection to the common good no longer requires lethal means.
So there. The revision is not saying that killing of a dangerous human being in order to protect society (if it is necessary) is intrinsically evil, but it is saying that it can no longer be done because the conditions which make this necessary no longer exist. If it were the case that the Pope wanted to teach that the death penalty is intrinsically evil, then other paragraphs I brought up (2263, etc,etc) would have also had to be changed in order to exclude any and all killing, even if to protect.
Now, all of this is squarely dependent on whether the conditions which justify a lethal means of punishment are no longer existent, and for the life of me, I don’t see how this question enters into the realm of doctrine on faith or morals. It is , in my opinion, entirely within the realm of prudence and discretion. Since the context and situations of life are not constant, it would be bizarre to make a definitive and irreformable exclusion of lethal means of punishment to secure the protection of the common good. Situations change, and so this revision to the Catechism appears to be exterior to a doctrinal change, albeit intersecting doctrinal and moral principles.
But, as much as I hate to say it, this doesn’t mean we are out of the woods just yet. There is far more to say about this than appears on the surface.
While the new CCC 2267 may not teach that the death penalty is intrinsically evil (which would certainly contradict Church teaching and the Christian tradition), this does not mean that there are not other problems/errors possibly associated with both the new CCC227 and the old one as well. My mind gravitates toward the subject of retributive justice itself justifying a lethal-bloody consequence. This appears to be something that the Papal magisterium has since St. John Paul II, including Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus, discouraged almost completely, and now perhaps completely en toto with Pope Francis. But, unfortunately, I’ve not the time, space, or knowledge to really address that at this precise moment.