Pope Francis calls for abolishing death penalty and life imprisonment

Perhaps dump penalization for rehabilitation…except, there is no interest, because its an expensive proposition, and deprives people of a means of justifying their vengefulness.

How so? If the option of life in prison is off the table, the release of rapists and child molesters back into society is precisely what will happen. These people should be behind bars unconditionally, as they remain threats to the common good.

Agreed, I’d rather be incarcerated here in the US compared to Russia or China. Those numbers themselves don’t absolutely represent injustice either. But, I think it should give us reason to investigate the effectiveness and fairness of the system. I think most Americans would consider our society much preferable to China and Russia, so they are interesting company for us to keep on this topic. It also makes us a substantial statistical out layer against every other country we’d consider a peer.

You are right…it is an american anomaly. In America we love hanging em high in the town square!

We are joined by the likes of Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other third world places.

The vast majority of the world has abolished the death penalty.

This map speaks for itself…

My point was that they would be released at an advanced age whereby it would be unlikely for them to commit those same crimes upon release.

As I said, though, it’s not a well-polished proposition on my part but rather an off-the-cuff example. I don’t deny the possibility that life imprisonment might be appropriate in certain situations. I’m simply trying to provide another way of looking at what the pope is saying before rejecting what he is saying out of hand because it clashes with our own notions of how the criminal justice system ought to operate.

The population exploded mostly because of mandatory sentencing, and particularly in the case of drug violations.

As for rehabilitation–it’s getting traction in some jurisdictions through the use of diversion courts. For example, a person convicted of a drug crime may be tried in a drug court that is set up to place that person in a drug rehab program while he/she is incarcerated. Successful completion of the program is a condition of release. 80% - 90% of drug offenders who complete rehab programs are not arrested again. Drug courts save a tremendous amount of tax payer dollars, and are save society immeasurable costs.

How about instead of rehab, we work on prevention? Why not fund education instead of prison construction? Personally, I’d rather build a classroom than a prison cell. Unfortunately, a lot of politicians’ “tough on crime” platforms view prison construction as economic development and job creation.

However, I think there are a lot of lifers who need to stay lifers.

There was a time that the Death Penalty was considered MERCIFUL by some believe it or not. It was THE opportunity given to the criminal to repent for his sins and be reconciled to God before he died and it was done swiftly (no waiting years and years in the judicial system). There’s nothing like “meeting your maker” to snap things into place for a fella ;).

I agree life sentences are a hidden death penalty and actually much crueller and I imagine there’s much less of a success rate for true repentance before dying, more hearts hardened and filled with malice, and a whole lot more opportunity for grave sin (within prison).

I personally think for very grave crimes (murder; child predators; terrorists) I could accept the death penalty if it was done mercifully (to me that would be shooting squad so it’s quick) AND had lots of opportunity to work things out with a priest or a chosen faith/spiritual director.

Here’s an interesting article to read about this that gives a whole lot to think about:

Catholicism & Capital Punishment
by Avery Cardinal Dulles

The mounting opposition to the death penalty in Europe since the Enlightenment has gone hand in hand with a decline of faith in eternal life. In the nineteenth century the most consistent supporters of capital punishment were the Christian churches, and its most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches.


Pius XII, in a further clarification of the standard argument, holds that when the State, acting by its ministerial power, uses the death penalty, it does not exercise dominion over human life but only recognizes that the criminal, by a kind of moral suicide, has deprived himself of the right to life. In the Pope’s words,

Even when there is question of the execution of a condemned man, the State does not dispose of the individual’s right to life. In this case it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned person of the enjoyment of life in expiation of his crime when, by his crime, he has already dispossessed himself of his right to life.


The purposes of criminal punishment are rather unanimously delineated in the Catholic tradition. Punishment is held to have a variety of ends that may conveniently be reduced to the following four: rehabilitation, defense against the criminal, deterrence, and retribution.

It’s really an interesting topic!

Maybe there’s more criminals.

That this is the common perception doesn’t make it any the less untrue. A punishment is morally permissible when it is the just punishment for the crime. That is, when it is commensurate in severity with the severity of the crime, and the church has always held that this is true (at least) of capital punishment used for the crime of murder.

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?”.

Rehabilitation, like protection and deterrence, is a secondary objective of punishment. It is important to understand that protection, despite what is implied in CCC 2267, is not the primary objective.


Quite the opposite, crime rate has gone down (back to “1960’s” levels) and the incarceration rate has generally gone up or stayed the same. Much of this is"war on drugs" related.


Well, sure, that’s certainly one explanation.

It just struck me as something that raises serious questions we need to think through (such as the effectiveness of our criminal justice system as a whole). I’m inclined to agree with on_the_hill’s assessment that it is largely drug related.

What’s the solution? I have absolutely no idea. I wouldn’t relish the thought of living next door to former criminals, drug users or otherwise. But it strikes me as problematic that we seem to be creating this whole caste of people that no one wants to be around.

Yes, it saddens me to see that, on the issue of the death penalty, the US is right in there with China and a bunch of Middle Eastern countries. It leads me to believe we are doing something wrong.

What about :

Thou shalt not kill?

I thought God was the judge, it took a long time for us to realise the death penalty was wrong, but it’s taking some nations even longer. :frowning:

The church has never unilaterally opposed all killing; she has always recognized its legitimacy in certain situations.Q. 1276. Under what circumstances may human life be lawfully taken?
A. Human life may be lawfully taken:
1. In self-defense…
2. In a just war…
3. By the lawful execution of a criminal… (Baltimore Catechism)

I thought God was the judge…

And thus that which is lawful to God is lawful for His ministers when they act by His mandate. It is evident that God who is the Author of laws, has every right to inflict death on account of sin. For “the wages of sin is death.” Neither does His minister sin in inflicting that punishment. The sense, therefore, of “Thou shalt not kill” is that one shall not kill by one’s own authority. (Catechism of St. Thomas)

…it took a long time for us to realise the death penalty was wrong

This would mean the church has been wrong about the morality of capital punishment for nearly 2000 years. Is that really a conclusion you want to reach?


I am in total agreement with the pope as to the death penalty and I agree with him that it is important to focus more on rehabilitation. But there are people that you just cannot rehabilitate so what do you do in those cases. What do you do with the Jeffrey Dahmers, the ted bundys and the Richie ramirezes. You cannot just rule out life in prison in its entirety because there are people who will never rehabilitate

My guess would be that the Pope is not necessarily opposed to lifelong imprisonment but to a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Such sentences preclude the possibility that the guilty person can be rehabilitated before it can be known whether that truly is the case. That is a sentence of vengeance rather than justice and vengeance belongs to God alone.

Cardinal Dulles provided a good discussion of capital punishment at the time Pope St John Paul II raised the issue.

That’s where I’m at too. Indeed, I’ve always thought that life imprisonment was the practical alternative to the death penalty.

Not me. But I side with Pope Francis on very few things. :o

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