Pope Francis recently announced that capital punishment “is in itself contrary to the Gospel.”
Traditional Catholics, whose failure to understand the Gospel is legendary, began caterwauling precisely on schedule.
So, let's review the basics of moral theology again.
We can inflict a natural evil (e.g., the pain of surgery) if we have legitimate hope that a natural good will result that is greater than the natural evil. However, we cannot inflict a moral evil at all.
Thus, we cannot take a human life (commit murder via euthanasia or abortion), even if this would restore a natural good (e.g., financial well-being to the family, health of the mother). We cannot torture another person, even if we have legitimate reason to hope that the tortured person will give up information that will prevent a great physical catastrophe. John Paul II pointed out that, given the current cultural climate, there were virtually no circumstances under which capital punishment was legitimate. Pope Francis merely stands with JP II.
Christ came to give life, and that abundantly.
He didn't come to take it.
In that sense, capital punishment has always been against the Gospel. And, it is worth keeping in mind that the Church has never, herself, imposed the death penalty. At most, she handed heretics over to the secular authority. Sometimes, the secular authority chose to execute the heretic, reasoning that anyone who was willing to rebel against God would have few cavils about rebelling against a human monarch. Other secular authorities (I'm looking at you, monarchs and princes who protected the likes of Jan Hus, Martin Luther and John Wycliffe) decided they liked what the heretic had to say and either left him alone, or actually supported him. But the death penalty was always and only a secular affair, never a sentence imposed by the Church.
Actually, the "change" in the teaching on the death penalty is virtually identical to the "change" in the teaching on usury or the Church's stance on slavery. Sure, usury is intrinsically evil, but the definition of money changed, so the phrase "interest on a loan" no longer means what it meant in the 12th century. Thus, when we say "charging interest on a loan is a mortal sin", the phrase doesn't mean now what it meant in the year 1000 AD.
Similarly, the Church permitted enslavement in the subsistence-level society of the Middle Ages, precisely because a subsistence-level society cannot afford to have many people in jail. A subsistence-level society requires that every able-bodied person work, so that the entire community does not starve. Useless moouths in jail couldn't be sustained. Prisoners either had to be killed, put to work or banished (which was equivalent to a death sentence). In justice, slavery was the only decent way to treat someone who offended against society. But, by the late 20th-century, we no longer have a subsistence-level society. We can afford to house legions of prisoners (and we do). The word "slavery" no longer means what it did. Thus, Pope John Paul II uses Veritatis Splendor #80 to pronounce "slavery... intrinsically evil."
In the same way, the circumstances which made the death penalty legitimate for state actors in the 12th century simply no longer obtain in the 21st. We aren't a subsistence-level society anymore, we have many more means to contain violence now than we did in the 12th century, so the reasons of self-defense which the state could use in the year 1000 simply don't exist anymore. The death penalty can no longer be legitimately referred to as a kind of self defense.
If the Church has permitted the death penalty, She has permitted it in the same way that Aquinas and Augustine were willing to permit prostitution, and the same way God Himself permitted divorce - not because it is a legitimate right, but because they were dealing with stiff-necked people.
"Stiff-necked people" ... That would be us.
By grumbling against Christ's mercy, shown forth in the Holy Father's words, we are acting like Korah and his associates. That didn't work out well for them.
Now, I don't expect this article to sway traditionalists. After all, when the people were told by Moses, "Look, I'm going to let God judge between me and Korah. If the ground opens up and swallows Korah and all his people in a flaming crack, then maybe you will admit that I was not entirely wrong." And when the ground opened up in a flaming crack and swallowed Korah, along with all his followers, the people - remembering Moses' warning - instantly responded, "See? Moses killed Korah."
Because that's how people are.
They don't like to admit that they are ignorant or idiots.
But for the rest of you - people who can be reasoned with, that is - these words should be sufficient.