In a way Pope Francis seems to be codifying an existing situation in that most of the “majority catholic” nations have already abolished the death penalty. This is a big shift in thinking . The early Catholic Church was almost unanimously pro-execution, as were the populations themselves. For centuries the sight of a hanged prisoner was believed to be a deterrent to other violently inclined persons. People attended executions, some of which were quite gruesome, with their children, even bringing picnics. People must have had stronger stomachs then and were somehow able to watch a human being cut into pieces. People became accustomed to living in very cruel times.
Even the eighteenth century rationalist philosophers and secular thinkers thought that the death sentence was necessary to protect society. Diderot believed that the accused must be destroyed rather than punished. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Emmanuel Kant all thought along the same lines.
It was only in the 19th Century that death sentence abolitionists began to appear. The belief that this was a cruel and unusual punishment began to gain ground. In 1846, the State of Michigan became the first to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason. Rhode Island and Wisconsin followed.
During the Civil War, opposition to the death penalty waned as more attention was given to the anti-slavery movement. Much later, from 1963 to 1977, a moratorium on executions in the United States was thought to be the end of capital punishment until Gary Gilmore was executed in Utah.
In 1981. the death penalty was abolished in France. Some may be surprised to learn that France used the guillotine until 1977.
Today, 19 states in the United States have abolished capital punishment and 31 still practice it. In the rest of the world, 23 of 102 major countries still execute people. Capital punishment has been abolished in France, Portugal, Russia, The Netherlands, Costa Rica, Brazil and many other countries.
Only two modern democracies still employ capital punishment: The United States and Japan.
I believe that the practice of legally killing people should be stopped for the simple reason that it is too final. There are far too many cases of wrongfully accused and convicted people and nothing can bring them back from death. Witnesses are unreliable and make false identifications either by mistake or by intent. Prejudice enters into the picture and errors are too costly. There is also cruelty in keeping people on Death Row during appeals and the costs to the state are very high. In addition we seem to be incapable of devising a painless way of killing people. I do not understand why animals can be euthanized painlessly but humans cannot.