Pope declares death penalty inadmissible, changing Church’s stance

Pope Francis has declared that the death penalty is never admissible "because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," the Catholic Church formally announced Thursday.

The change, which has been added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, makes official a position that the Pope has articulated since he became pontiff.

The Church will now "work with determination towards its abolition worldwide," the Vatican said.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told CNN that the change was important but had long been expected.

"The key point here is really human dignity, the Pope is saying that no matter how grievous the crime, someone never loses his or her human dignity," he said.

The Catholic Church's teaching on the death penalty has been slowly evolving since the time of Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 to 2005.

In his Christmas message in 1998, he wished "the world the consensus concerning the need for urgent and adequate measures ... to end the death penalty."

His successor Benedict XVI, in a document published in November 2011, called on society's leaders "to make every effort to eliminate the death penalty."