Death penalty fosters revenge, not justice, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves

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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Follow Arocho on
Twitter: @arochoju.

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