Pope Francis: The Death Penalty Is ‘Inhuman’, ‘Contrary to the Gospel’

Pope Francis looks on during a mass for the Cardinals and Bishops who have died over the course of the year at the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on November 3, 2018. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has continued his crusade against capital punishment with a strongly worded address Monday, calling it a vestige of an age that ignored “the primacy of mercy over justice” while adding that life imprisonment should also be abolished.

“In past centuries, when measures available to us for the protection of society were lacking and the current level of development of human rights had not yet been achieved, recourse to the death penalty was sometimes presented as a logical and just consequence,” the pope told a delegation from the International Commission against the Death Penalty. “Even in the Papal States, this inhuman form of punishment has been resorted to, ignoring the primacy of mercy over justice.”

The acceptance of this form of punishment “was a consequence of a mentality of the time, more legalistic than Christian, that sacralized the value of laws lacking in humanity and mercy,” he said. “The Church could not remain in a neutral position in the face of the current demands of reaffirmation of the dignity of the person.”

In his address, the pope insisted that his rejection of the death penalty “does not imply any contradiction with the teaching of the past, because the Church has always defended the dignity of human life.”

It is, rather, a “harmonious development,” Francis said, which imposes the need to reflect that, “in the light of the Gospel, the death penalty is always inadmissible because it threatens the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”

In a similar vein, the pope went on to condemn life imprisonment as cruel and unjust, leaving no room for redemption.

The Magisterium of the Church understands that life imprisonment, which removes the possibility of a moral and existential redemption, is a sort of “covert death penalty,” he said. “God is a Father who always awaits the return of the son who, knowing that he has made a mistake, asks for forgiveness and starts a new life.”

“No one, then, can be deprived of his life or the hope of his redemption and reconciliation with the community,” he said, suggesting that life imprisonment is also inadmissible.

Nations that allow the death penalty, he continued, should bring their legislation into conformity with “international law.”

“The sovereign right of all countries to define their legal system cannot be exercised in contradiction with their obligations under international law nor can it represent an obstacle to the universal recognition of human dignity,” he asserted.

The pope said that U.N. resolutions regarding a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in member countries, are “a path that must be traveled.”

“I would like to invite all States that have not abolished the death penalty but do not apply it, to continue complying with this international commitment and that the moratorium be applied not only to the execution of the sentence but also to the imposition of death sentences,” he said.

“I implore the States that continue applying the death penalty to adopt a moratorium with a view to the abolition of this cruel form of punishment,” Francis said.

Any use of lethal force that is not strictly necessary for self-defense “can only be considered an illegal execution and a state crime,” he said.

In conclusion, the pope said that “all men and women of good will are called” to work for the abolition of the death penalty, and this is “a duty for those of us who share the Christian vocation of Baptism.”

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