Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis came out squarely against the death penalty once again, calling it “unacceptable” regardless of the seriousness of the crime of the condemned.
Pope Francis met with a three-person delegation of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty March 20, and issued a letter on the occasion urging worldwide abolition.
Citing his previous messages against the death penalty, the pope called capital punishment “cruel, inhumane and degrading” and said it “does not bring justice to the victims, but only foments revenge.”
Furthermore, in a modern “state of law, the death penalty represents a failure” because it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice, the pope said. Rather, it is a method frequently used by “totalitarian regimes and fanatical groups” to do away with “political dissidents, minorities” and any other person deemed a threat to their power and to their goals.
“Human justice is imperfect,” he said, and the death penalty loses all legitimacy within penal systems where judicial error is possible.
Increasingly, public opinion is against the death penalty, in view of the effective means available today to restrain a criminal without denying them the possibility to redeem themselves and of a “greater moral sensitivity regarding the value of human life,” Pope Francis said.
The death penalty is an affront to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of the human person, he said. It contradicts God’s plan for humankind and society and God’s merciful justice, he added.
Capital punishment “is cruel, inhuman and degrading, as is the anxiety that precedes the moment of execution and the terrible wait between the sentence and the application of the punishment, a ‘torture’ which, in the name of a just process, usually lasts many years and, in awaiting death, leads to sickness and insanity.”
The pope went on to say that the application of capital punishment denies the condemned the possibility of making reparation for the wrong committed, of expressing their interior conversion through confession, and expressing contrition, so as to encounter God’s merciful and saving love.
Speaking about life imprisonment, Pope Francis said such sentences makes it impossible for a prisoner to “project a future” and in that way can be considered a “disguised death” as it deprives prisoners not only of their freedom but also of their hope.
In the Diocese of Wilmington, in a recent letter to Members of the Delaware Legislature, Bishop Francis Malooly urged the passage of a bill to repeal the death penalty in the State. The letter stated, “Many crimes are so heinous they seem to cry out for the ultimate punishment of death. However, life, every life, is a gift from God, and God alone is ‘the master of both life and death.'” The Bishop added, “The belief that life is precious, every life, and that life is an inalienable right is something that must be encouraged, especially by the State.”
Read Bishop Malooly’s letter in its entirety below:
God is ‘the master of both life and death’
March 20, 2015 Dear Members of the Delaware Legislature:
This week a bill was introduced which proposes the repeal of the death penalty in the State of Delaware. I write to support this bill’s passage.
Use of the death penalty by the State has in recent years been the focus of much debate. The issue is a morally complex one because of the apparent conflicting demands of justice and the preservation of human life. Many crimes are so heinous they seem to cry out for the ultimate punishment of death. We need only to think of the recent mass killings of innocent people, by ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Boston Marathon bombing. And yet the Gospel message is forever one of forgiveness, reconciliation, rehabilitation, and charity to all, never with exception. We live, unfortunately in a culture of death, death by wanton violence, war, murder, hatred, euthanasia, and abortion. There are many threats to human life and at times life is treated cheaply. However, life, every life, is a gift from God, and God alone is “the master of both life and death.”
Last October, Pope Francis called for a worldwide abolition of the death penalty and noted that, “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.” Christian belief and Christian teaching have always espoused reconciliation, reform, and rehabilitation.
Today imprisonment is effective in removing the serious offender from society and thus removes the danger to innocent life. Imprisonment allows time for repentance, reformation, and a change of heart. We are taught by Christ to visit the imprisoned, to minister to them, and to encourage them to change because in spite of their crimes they remain children of God.
We never lose sight of our foundational belief that even the worst of offenders are our brothers and sisters who are offered through Christ forgiveness and eternal life. We have always believed in the right of self defense and of society’s right to defend itself from aggressors such as murderers, serial killers, terrorists, and the like.
The question, however, is whether the death penalty is a just and necessary method. The ultimate challenge to any society is the preservation and sanctity of life, all life, each life. We may think the death penalty eliminates a problem. However, a person, not a problem, is destroyed when the death penalty is employed.
The deeper problem to be dealt with is what has gone wrong with society when violent crime is so widespread. The deeper problem is complex and does not admit of an easy solution. I do not think that the death penalty is part of that solution. We know that there are many challenges in our sometimes dysfunctional society, and that society helps to breed criminals because of poverty, discrimination, family breakdown, injustice, lack of hope and opportunity.
Those problems are not corrected by the death penalty. Sadly, in the past, the innocent have mistakenly been executed for the crimes of others. Many continue to be exonerated by new evidence. There is a growing consciousness in our modern society that there is something wrong in using the death penalty to discourage crime and violence. The belief that life is precious, every life, and that life is an inalienable right is something that must be encouraged, especially by the State. I strongly urge you to support a repeal of the death penalty in our state.
Most Rev. W. Francis Malooly
Bishop of Wilmington