November 3, 2014
FRANCIS ROCCA
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has called for abolition of both the death penalty and life imprisonment.

In an Oct. 23 meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law, the pope also denounced what he called a "penal populism" that promises to solve society's problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.

"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," the pope 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.

The pope said, although a number of countries have formally abolished capital punishment, "the death penalty, illegally and to a varying extent, is applied all over the planet."

"Extrajudicial executions" are often disguised as "clashes with offenders or presented as the undesired consequences of the reasonable, necessary and proportionate use of force to apply the law," he said.

The pope denounced the detention of prisoners without trial, who he said account for more than 50 per cent of all incarcerated people in some countries.

FORM OF TORTURE

Maximum security prisons can be a form of torture, he added, since their "principal characteristic is none other than external isolation."

This can lead to "psychic and physical sufferings such as paranoia, anxiety, depression and weight loss and significantly increase the chance of suicide," he said.

PUNISHMENT OVERUSED

Pope Francis said contemporary societies overuse criminal punishment, partially out of a primitive tendency to offer up "sacrificial victims, accused of the disgraces that strike the community."

Some politicians and members of the media promote "violence and revenge, public and private, not only against those responsible for crimes, but also against those under suspicion, justified or not," he said.