24 October 2014, The Tablet

Pope calls for abolition of death penalty

by Liz Dodd , CNS

Pope Francis has called for abolition of the death penalty and life imprisonment, saying that Christians are called to campaign for an end to capital punishment.

At a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law yesterday Pope Francis denounced what he called a "penal populism" that promises to solve society's problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.

He said that life imprisonment was a form of death penalty.

"It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend people’s lives from an unjust aggressor," he said.

"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 life imprisonment from its own penal code.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, cited by Pope Francis in his talk, "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor," but modern advances in protecting society from dangerous criminals mean that "cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

The Pope denounced the detention of prisoners without trial, who, he said, in some countries account for more than 50 per cent of all incarcerated people. He said maximum security prisons can be a form of torture, since their "principal characteristic is none other than external isolation," which can lead to "psychiatric and physical sufferings such as paranoia, anxiety, depression and weight loss and significantly increase the chance of suicide".

He also rebuked unspecified governments involved in kidnapping people for "illegal transportation to detention centres in which torture is practiced."

Above: Man joins rally against death penalty in 2013 outside Maryland Statehouse Photo: CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review

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