Death penalty fosters revenge, not justice, pope says


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.


The problem I have with these sort of pronouncements isn’t their content but their target: invariably their target is the west (and USA in particular) which has a strong tradition of favoring the rights of defendants; providing them with attorneys and access to the courts, etc., yet turning a blind eye to, say, china, or Muslim nations with truly heinous civil rights records and the death penalty for many non-crimes (such as being gay). Slavery is still legal in much of Muslim Africa, yet nations there aren’t really the targets of statements such as those that are made.

Note also where the pope was when he spoke: in Norway. How about a strongly worded statement decrying actions by china or most of Africa?


To be fair, previous popes have made very similar statements.

By the way, I thought slavery was illegal in every country in the world? I’m aware of sex trafficking and so forth but I doubt that’s considered legal activity.


Unfortunately, ISIS has legalized slavery for anyone who doesn’t follow their particular brand of Islam, but especially Christians. I don’t know that the areas they control are recognized as a legitimate state by anyone, though.


The pope has spoken about slavery:

Pope Francis Leads the Charge Against 21st Century Slavery

On April 7, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations co-sponsored a landmark summit on the issue of ending human slavery in our lifetimes. It featured senior Church leaders alongside key players in international development and diplomacy. Co-sponsoring the event was the “Santa Marta Group”, an organization that Pope Francis founded to abolish human trafficking.

He didn’t have to tell the U.S. Bishops because they are already working on the problem:

For over a decade, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been a national leader in advocacy and education to eradicate sex and labor trafficking. For six years, USCCB and our partners provided intensive case management services to victims of human trafficking, assisting more than 2,232 survivors of trafficking and over 500 of their family members. Currently, we are concentrating our efforts on training and technical assistance so that victims can be identified and brought into safety. Hopefully one day, we can eradicate the horrible crime of modern day slavery.


Yes Boko Haram in Nigeria as well. But Boko Haram is not Nigeria.


What is justice for the taking of an innocent life or multiple innocent lives?


I would like to hear this from Catholics.

We get a lot of bishops, cardinals, even the Pope talk about immigration (how to be in favor of immigration), and now this with the death penalty.

I will get political here, but it seems like the right wing Catholics here in the USA, will immediately argue, well it’s not ex cathedra, so I don’t have to agree with what Bishop or Cardinal or Pope so and so said.

Aren’t we as Catholics suppose to support these men opinions? If not and we argue ex cathedra right away, were basically sounding like cafeteria Catholics.


Something our prison system is incapable of providing due to our very defendant favored system of justice and prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment (and the very expansive definition of what that entails).


I would like to know what a lot of bishops, cardinals, and the Pope think justice is for a murder victim and his family. What they think justice is for someone beaten into a coma. What they think justice is for a teenage rape victim.


US Bishops on the death penalty


My problem with statements like that is that the Pope is speaking contrary to two millenia of Catholic teaching.

And the Catholic teaching is this: the death penalty is morally licit, AND is a form of justice, not revenge.

I do not have to like it, but it IS the teaching of the Catholic Church.


I share your concern, and I too want the death penalty abolished. When Catholics simply say they disagree with the pope, at least in some circumstances I think that’s unacceptable, and this is one of them. Lumen Gentium 25 says:

“In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” source

It seems to me that Pope Francis has repeated his opposition to the death penalty (at least in modern times) so strongly, and so repeatedly, that to disagree is not an option for a faithful Catholic.

Cardinal Ratzinger had said at one point that it was okay for a Catholic to disagree with the pope on the application of the death penalty. That was under the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul 2, who, in my opinion, was not as forceful on this issue. Now that Pope Francis has been so clear and strong in his declarations on this subject, it is my opinion that Lumen Gentium 25 applies to this issue, and Catholics must sincerely adhere to his judgments about the modern use of the death penalty.


It seems to my reading that they put much more emphasis on mercy for murderers than on justice for their victims.


Presumably life imprisonment.


That would seem to deviate from their emphasis on mercy for criminals.


Pope Francis has spoken against life imprisonment as well:

“All Christians and men of good will are thus called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty…but also in order to improve prison conditions… And I link this to life imprisonment. A short time ago the life sentence was taken out of the Vatican’s Criminal Code. A life sentence is just a death penalty in disguise.” source

“[L]ife imprisonment, as well as those sentences which, due to their duration, render it impossible for the condemned to plan a future in freedom, may be considered hidden death sentences, because with them the guilty party is not only deprived of his/her freedom, but insidiously deprived of hope. But, even though the criminal justice system may appropriate the guilty parties’ time, it must never take away their hope.” source

It seems to me that justice for the victims of violence involves punishing the guilty, but not in a way that kills the guilty or prevents them from reconciling with society. It seems to me that a murderer should not be imprisoned for life unless he refuses to repent. He should be jailed until he is ready to be reintegrated, which Might take a lifetime, but shouldn’t. He should be let free if he gets normal again.


I’d say it’s more merciful to spare someone’s life and keep them locked up than to execute them. Plus ‘life’ isn’t always as long as a person’s natural life, so they might get out as elderly men (or women).

Added: just saw the above. I guess I’m out of answers.


It’s more merciful, but I don’t think you could describe as merciful. It would be more merciful for me to hit you in the hand with a hammer than for me to shoot you in the hand with a gun, but nobody would describe either as merciful. That still doesn’t answer my question, if “life” doesn’t actually mean “life”, what does it mean? Is 5 years justice for the taking of an innocent life? 10 years? What’s the number? Also, the bishops worry about allowing the murderer the chance to repent and come into Christ’s mercy, but what about the victim? His chance at repentance is gone. What is justice for that?


Speaking as someone who has had a family member murdered, there is no justice for the victim or their family.

No prison or death sentence will ever right the wrong that was done. You try to find peace and move on as best you can.

The justice system is (in my opinion) about protecting society as best it can and punishing those break the law. No victim ever finds true justice there.

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