Death penalty fosters revenge, not justice, pope says

Pope Francis (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis during a general audience in June. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Junno Arocho Esteves
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Use of the death penalty is an unacceptable practice that sows vengeance and does not bring justice to the victims of crime, Pope Francis said.

No matter how serious the crime, to kill a convicted person is “an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person,” as well as a contradiction of God’s plan and “his merciful justice,” the pope said June 21 in a video message to participants at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.

“It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty,” the pope said in his message to the meeting in Oslo, Norway.

The June 21-23 conference, sponsored by the French association “Together Against the Death Penalty,” promotes the universal abolition of the death penalty. The group expected more than 1,300 people — including government officials — from more than 80 countries to attend.

Thanking the participants for their commitment to “a world free of the death of penalty,” the pope said growing opposition to the death penalty as a legitimate means of social defense is “one sign of hope.”

The Year of Mercy, he added, also can serve as an occasion globally to promote “more evolved forms of respect for the life and dignity of each person.”

“It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal,” he said.

While the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the death penalty can be used “if this is the only possible way” of defending lives from an unjust aggressor, it also stresses the importance of not removing the possibility of redemption from a person convicted of a crime.

“The cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent,” the catechism states.

Pope Francis echoed the church’s teaching, calling on conference participants to also work toward improving prison conditions “so that they fully respect the human dignity of those incarcerated” and promote the rehabilitation of convicts.

“There is no fitting punishment without hope!” Pope Francis said. “Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment.”

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