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The failure of a State of Rights

· The Pontiff to the International Commission against the Death Penalty ·

“For a State of Rights, the death penalty is a failure, because it obliges the State to kill in the name of justice”. The Pope wrote this in a letter on Friday, 20 March, to the President International Commission against the Death Penalty.

Receiving a delegation of the Commission, the Pontiff recalled his previous letter sent to the International Association of Criminal Law and to the Latin American Association of Criminal Law and Criminology on 30 May 2014, in addition to his address to the five large world associations which study criminal law, criminology, victimology and issues of imprisonment on 23 October.

The Holy Father underlined that “States can kill by action when they apply the death penalty, when they lead their people to war or when they perform extrajudicial or summary executions”, but “they can also kill by omission, when they do not guarantee their people access to essential means for life”. “Life, above all human life, belongs only to God. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity”, he added, referring to the story of Cain. Although the need to neutralize an aggressor “may bring about his elimination”, however “the prerequisites of legitimate personal defence are not applicable in the social sphere”.

Thus Francis believes that “death penalty is unacceptable”. “It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person which contradicts God’s plan for man and for society and his merciful justice, and prevents correspondence with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to the victims, but foments revenge”. Thus, “justice is never reached by killing a human being”.

Furthermore, the Pope continued, “the death penalty loses all legitimacy due to the defective selectivity of the criminal justice system and in the face of the possibility of judicial error”. We cannot be silent in the face of the death penalty that “is also a frequent practice to which totalitarian regimes and fanatical groups resort, for the extermination of political dissidents, minorities, and every subject labelled as 'dangerous'”. This happens in the Church which “endures the application of this penalty to her new martyrs”.

Finally the Pontiff also touched on how “there is debate over the method of execution, as if it were about finding the way 'to do it well'. But he warned, “a humane form of killing another person does not exist”.




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 23, 2020