Pope Francis calls for abolishing death penalty and life imprisonment

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis called for abolition of the death penalty as well as life imprisonment, and denounced what he called a “penal populism” that promises to solve society’s problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.

“It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples’ lives from an unjust aggressor,” the pope said Oct. 23 in a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law.

“All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment,” he said. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”

The pope noted that the Vatican recently eliminated the death penalty from its own penal code.


“Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.” That’s an interesting thought.

It would help if he were to suggest another means.

The life-imprisonment part I don’t get, but I agree about the death penalty.

He presumably means sentences which are whole-life, or are in effect whole-life (like giving someone 80 years in prison when they are 30 years old). Most life sentences in the UK are far shorter than that, and give the offender some hope of rehabilitation in society.

I agree with him on both counts, although we do have a small number of whole-life prisoners in the UK who have committed particularly heinous violent crimes.

I agree with the “what instead, then” about life imprisonment. Are you supposed to put the child molesters and murderers back on the streets while they are still young enough to hurt others?

Parole doesn’t work very well. Not everyone learns their lesson in prison. I’m not arguing the pope, I’m just really curious what an alternative would be?

Maybe someone SHOULD be arguing with this pope. Maybe a lot of people should be arguing with this pope.:mad:

Some criminals deserve to be shot. They have no hope for SOCIAL redemption. We even put rabid dogs down. Read Justice Sotomeyer’s book. Even says there are some people who are beyond social redemption.

Here’s a link to the bookstore if you can’t find the book in the library.


You’re right, that is an interesting thought.

I can see what he’s getting at. I recently saw some charts that showed how the prison population has exploded at an alarming, exponential rate over the past 50 years. It does seem like there could well be some better ways to go about responding to crime and punishment.

Well, sure, but I think part of the pope’s role is to prick people’s consciences by speaking out when he sees injustice. I think it would be a bit outside of his area of expertise for him to propose concrete solutions to the problem. But pointing out that there is a problem is worth doing, too.

How can there be social justice if society is not to be protected from those who prey on the innocent and helpless by locking away the aggressors or eliminating them entirely?

And I agree with Joe Kelley – I’m waiting for alternative suggestions from the Vatican. But I’m not holding my breath.

Murderers, child molesters, rapists, etc. are not deprived of their liberty by society. Rather, they deprive themselves of their liberty by their crimes! The defense of the common good demands that such offenders be removed from society. If the defense the common good requires that such criminals remain behind bars for the rest of their lives, then so be it. By all means they should be treated with the dignity merited by their person-hood, but to say that somehow the penal system “deprives them of their liberty” is so backwards its almost laughable! The criminal is the offender, not the system that seeks to protect the common good. Pope Francis has really shown his hand as a progressive liberal in this past week. He and the Church are in DESPERATE need of our prayers.

I think I’ll side with Pope Francis over Justice Sotomayor when it comes to evaluating a human being’s capacity for redemption – social or eternal. Just sayin’. :wink:

My understanding of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty is that it is only morally permissible as a last resort. That is, the death penalty is only permissible when it is essentially a matter of self-defense, so if we have other options to protect ourselves from a violent criminal (like reliable jails, etc) we have to choose those.

As far as I understand, I don’t think the issue of whether or not they can be rehabilitated matters one way or the other. The question isn’t “can this person be rehabilitated?”, it’s “can we protect ourselves from this person without killing them?”.

I’ve never see life-imprisonment equated in this way, and, like others have said, it begs the question “what other options are there?”. I don’t see any myself.

I agree. Life-imprisonment still gives the criminal a chance to achieve contrition and forgiveness for his sins. It also gives the criminal continued life, so he can serve others, even from prison. The alternative to life imprisonment would be to release the criminal back into society where he might hurt innocent people. I mean, he received the sentence of life imprisonment for a reason! So I, too, don’t get the part about life imprisonment. I also agree that the death penalty should be abolished.

Hopefully Christian nations will listen to him.

I can see what he is getting at as well. For someone who has experienced true repentence and conversion after being imprisoned and has served a decent sentence… it seems that to not consider his re entry to society a possibility is to deny the power of conversion and redemption. If a heinous criminal genuinely repents and goes to confession, we are asked to have faith that his sin is completely expunged from his soul. He is a new person with a new start. I can see that that should also be reflected by our human justice in some way.

Or maybe that he is not an American. We have the world’s highest incarceration rate, higher than that of Russia or China. We have about 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. Clearly we have a different view on when prison is appropriate and how long internment should be when compared to the rest of the world; especially the rest of the western world.

Before we get all bent out of shape, let’s look at what the pope is and is not saying. He’s not advocating that rapists and murderers be released on the street with barely a slap on the wrist. He’s saying the life in prison is too extreme of a punishment. There is lots of room between those two extremes. For example, letting such criminals out of prison when they turn 80 (or something like that). They’re not going to be physically capable of those heinous acts at that age. But having that hope for the future that they may someday know a life outside of prison could be valuable.

Now, I’m just tossing this out there as one idea that I thought of off the top of my head. I’m not prepared to defend it as the course of action our criminal justice system needs to follow. I just want to illustrate that an absence of “life imprisonment” sentences is not necessarily the same thing as letting loose sociopaths into our society in an indiscriminate way.

Incarceration, when used as a form of social rehabilitation is good for both society and the prisoner. The number of prisoners in America is not alarming, as long as no injustice is reflected in those statistics. As for the treatment of prisoners - I would much rather be incarcerated in America than in Russia or China!

As for my comment about Pope Francis’ progressive liberal views - I was referring not only to this proclamation about the death penalty and imprisonment (both of which are sanctioned in the CCC under the proper circumstances (i.e. the last resort in the preservation of the common good)) but also his views expressed at last week’s synod.

I disagree with the Pope, I think there are some people who are so far gone that they will always be a risk to those around them. There is a point where rehabilitation is not possible-- or at least the risk of it failing is so high that it precludes releasing those individuals.

Have you ever read any of the books by FBI profilers on serial killers? Interestingly, many of the serial killers state flat out that if released-- they would go right back to killing again. It is too strong a compulsion, too basic a need for them.

As to their eternal redemption, I will pray for it and leave that to the Holy Spirit.

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