It’s tempting to chalk up Pope Francis’s recent announcement—that the catechism has been revised to decree the death penalty as always “inadmissible”—to his perceived leftism. But that would be a mistake not only from a theological perspective, but also from a conservative one.
The two main conservative arguments for the death penalty are surprisingly weak. The first is that it acts a deterrent. The factual basis for this is, at best, debatable: the number of penal executions spiked in the 1990s and the U.S. murder rate crashed. However, as the use of capital punishment has declined since 2000, the homicide rate has also continued to go down. (See data here and here.) Moreover, the disparity in executions relative to murders undermines the credibility of the argument: executions peaked at 98 in 1999; that same year there were 15,522 murders.