ROME — Pope Francis said life imprisonment is never legitimate because it deprives criminals of “prospects of reconciliation and reintegration.”
After having officially declared the death penalty “inadmissible” in 2018, Francis has now gone on to extend his condemnation to life imprisonment without parole even for the most dangerous criminals, saying that society has the responsibility to “never suffocate the flame of hope.”
Reviving the flame of hope “is the duty of all,” Francis said this week in an address to prison staff, chaplains, and inmates. “It is up to every society to feed it, to ensure that punishment does not compromise the right to hope, that prospects of reconciliation and reintegration are guaranteed.”
In a key paragraph, the pontiff expressed his view that a life sentence is a problem rather than a solution.
“While remedying the mistakes of the past, we cannot erase hope in the future,” he said. “Life imprisonment is not the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved. Because if hope is locked up, there is no future for society.”
“Never deprive anyone of the right to start over!” he added.
In the past, Catholic theologians would often defend the legitimacy of severe punishments including the death penalty by arguing that while they may deprive criminals of hope in this life, they can encourage hope for eternal salvation, which is the proper aim of hope.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
In his address last Saturday, Pope Francis said that all people, including the most villainous, also have the right to hope for full rehabilitation in this life.
Those who work with prisoners “are witnesses of this right: the right to hope, the right to start anew,” he said.