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Death penalty decree supports opponents' legislative efforts

National Public Radio
Pope Francis (in white) after speaking at the Holy See.

Catholics in Western New York and across the world are re-assessing their beliefs, after the Vatican and Pope Francis issued a decree Thursday stating the church now formerly opposes the death penalty in all cases.

Fr. Greg Faulhaber of Queen of Heaven Parish in West Seneca says he has yet to finish his homily for Sunday's mass, however, he expects to talk about theupdateto the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the book of official teachings of the church. Faulhaber says the change is a minor, but important one.

"The current teaching, which came out yesterday from Pope Francis with the change of the catechism is basically what came out - number 2267 - doing that, he said there that the death penalty is 'inadmissible' because it is an attack on the viability and the dignity of the person," Faulhaber says, "and that really would be seen in all instances."

An earlier teaching included exceptions. It stated that capital punishment was a "means of safeguarding the common good" in response to "certain crimes." In announcing the "new understanding" that has emerged, Pope Francis said the church will work to eliminate the death penalty around the world.

Faulhaber says the new wording is consistent with the Vatican's "womb to tomb" defense of all life.

Credit Queen of Heaven Parish
Fr. Greg Faulhaber will be talking about the papal shift in his Sunday homily.

"Even someone who may have committed a crime, they still have their dignity of their human life. All people have rights and dignity and I think that's the message here, that dignity of all human life," Faulhaber says, "and so, by taking someone's life, that does not promote the dignity of life."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already said he will introduce legislation that would remove the death penalty from New York State law. His father, Mario, vetoed legislation reinstating corporal punishment 12 times in 12 years as governor.

While reinstated briefly in 1995 under Gov. George Pataki, corporal punishment was later declared unconstitutional. New York has not executed a prisoner since 1963.

Faulhaber, who teaches at the seminary and has written on a book on Catholic politicans, says the Vatican's shift will support legislative efforts.

"It's something that the New York State bishops have been against and working toward the ending of capital punishment," he said. "This provides further help for that cause and certainly, there're a lot of arguments against capital punishment that it really is not effective, even deterring crime."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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