‘Even criminals have the right to life’ — Pope Francis

oslo death penalty meeting“The inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal,” Pope Francis said today in a video message to the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty meeting in Oslo, Norway.

The basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender, and systems of justice must leave open the possibility of the guilty party’s reinsertion in society, the Pope said, adding: “There is no fitting punishment without hope! Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment.”

Around 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice since the late 1970s. But 55 countries in 2014 are known to have sentenced at least 2,466 people to death – a 28 per cent increase on the previous year.

There are around 3,000 prisoners on death row in the United States, although last year saw the fewest number of executions since 1991 and the fewest number of new death sentences for four decades.

According to “The Death Penalty in 2015: Year End Report,” 28 death row prisoners were executed in 2015 while 49 were sentenced to death in 2015, a 33 percent decline from the number of death sentences imposed in 2014, and the lowest number of new capital punishment sentences issued in a single year since the early 1970s.

Urging — as he has often done before — a complete ban on capital punishment, Pope Francis noted “a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defense.”

“The death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person,” the Pope added. “It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. 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.”

Pope Francis’ Message to Oslo Congress against the Death Penalty

I greet the organizers of this World Congress against the death penalty, the group of countries supporting it, particularly Norway as its host country, and all those representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society taking part in it. I likewise express my personal appreciation, along with that of men and women of goodwill, for your commitment to a world free of the death penalty.

One sign of hope is that public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defense. Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. 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 Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is an auspicious occasion for promoting worldwide ever 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.

Today I would encourage all to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also for the improvement of prison conditions, so that they fully respect the human dignity of those incarcerated. “Rendering justice” does not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but ensuring that the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender. The question must be dealt with within the larger framework of a system of penal justice open to the possibility of the guilty party’s reinsertion in society. There is no fitting punishment without hope! Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment.

I trust that this Congress can give new impulse to the effort to abolish capital punishment. For this reason, I encourage all taking part to carry on this great initiative and I assure them of my prayers.

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