Vatican City, 23 October 2014 (VIS) - Today, the Holy Father received delegates from the International Association of Penal Law (AIDP), addressing them with a speech focusing on the issues in their subject area that have recourse to the Church in her mission of evangelization and the promotion of the human person.
The Pope began by recalling the need for legal and political methods that are not characterized by the mythological “scapegoat” logic, that is, of an individual unjustly accused of the misfortunes that befall a community and then chosen to be sacrificed. It is also necessary to refute the belief that legal sanctions carry benefit, which requires the implementation of inclusive economic and social policies. He reiterated the primacy of the life and dignity of the human person, reaffirming the absolute condemnation of the death penalty, the use of which is rejected by Christians. In this context he also talked about the so-called extrajudicial executions, that is, the deliberated killing of individuals by some states or their agents that are presented as the unintended consequence of the reasonable, necessary, and proportionate use of force to implement the law. He emphasized that the death penalty is used in totalitarian regimes as “an instrument of suppression of political dissent or of persecution of religious or cultural minorities”.
He then spoke of the conditions of prisoners, including prisoners who have not been convicted and those convicted without a trial, stating that pretrial detention, when used improperly, is another modern form of unlawful punishment that is hidden behind legality. He also referred to the deplorable prison condition in much of the world, sometimes due to lack of infrastructure while other instances are the result of “the arbitrary exercise of ruthless power over detainees”. Pope Francis also spoke about torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, stating that, in the world today, torture is used not only as a means to achieve a particular purpose, such as a confession or an accusation—practices that are characteristic of a doctrine of national security—but also adds to the evil of detention. Criminal code itself bears responsibility for having allowed, in certain cases, the legitimacy of torture under certain conditions, opening the way for further abuse.
The Pope did not forget the application of criminal sanctions against children and the elderly, condemning its use in both cases. He also recalled some forms of crime that seriously damage the dignity of the human person as well as the common good, including human trafficking, slavery—recognized as a crime against humanity as well as a war crime in both international law and under many nations’ laws—the abject poverty in which more than a billion people live, and corruption. “The scandalous accumulation of global wealth is possible because of the connivance of those with strong powers who are responsible for public affairs. Corruption is a process of death … more evil than sin. An evil that, instead of being forgiven, must be cured.”
“Caution in the application of penal codes,” he concluded, “must be the overarching principle of legal systems … and respect for human dignity must not only act to limit the arbitrariness and excesses of government agents but as the guiding criterion for prosecuting and punishing behaviors that represent the most serious attacks on the dignity and integrity of the human person.”