Pope Francis Statements on
The Death Penalty
the Dignity of the Prisoner
Words of Pope Francis taken from the interview given to Father Antonio Spadaro, Director of Civiltà Cattolica, 21 September 2013.
“… Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the Church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the Church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost aalue or meaning. The view of the Church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance
or different understandings is wrong. After all, in every age of history, humans try to understand and express themselves better. So human beings in time change the way they perceive themselves. It’s one thing for a man who expresses himself by carving the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace,’ yet another for Caravaggio, Chagall and yet another still for Dalí. Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning. Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. The Church has experienced times of brilliance, like that of Thomas Aquinas. But the Church has lived also times of decline in its ability to think. For example, we must not confuse the genius of Thomas Aquinas with the age of decadent Thomist commentaries. Unfortunately, I studied philosophy from textbooks that came from decadent or largely bankrupt Thomism. In thinking of the human being, therefore, the Church should strive for genius and not for decadence…”
1. POPE FRANCIS DURING THE DAILY MASS CELEBRATED IN THE CHAPEL OF THE DOMUS SANCTAE MARTHAE
19 November 2013
“…We would also do well to ponder the consequences of their infidelity, to think about the death sentences, the human sacrifices. Do you think there are no human sacrifices today? There are many, many of them. And there are laws that protect them…”
2. POPE FRANCIS MEETS SALDANO’S MOTHER
14 February 2014
Pope Francis met with Lidia Guerrero, the Argentine native whose son, Victor Saldano, has been on death row in Texas for 19 years. He assured his prayers for the man.
3. POPE MEETS MERIAM, SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR APOSTASY IN SUDAN
24 July 2014
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Isha who was sentenced to death for apostasy in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and eventually released, was received by Pope Francis for a half hour meeting in the Vatican, along with her husband, Daniel Wani, her two young children and the Italian deputy foreign affairs minister who escorted her to Rome this morning. The Pope thanked Meriam and her family for their courageous testimony of perseverance in the faith.
4. ADDRESS TO THE DELEGATES OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF PENAL LAW
24 October 2014
“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.”
5. POPE FRANCIS SAYS NO CRIME DESERVES THE DEATH PENALTY
20 March 2015
In a letter to the President of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, Pope Francis repeated his call for all good Christians to work to end the use of the death penalty and made it clear that justice can never be accomplished by capital punishment.
“Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed. It is an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person, which contradicts God’s plan for man and society, and his merciful justice, and impedes the penalty from fulfilling any just objective. It does not bring justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance.”
“For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice. … Justice can never be wrought by killing a human being. … With the application of the death penalty, the convict is denied the possibility to repent or make amends for the harm caused; the possibility of confession, by which a man expresses his inner conversion, and contrition, the gateway to atonement and expiation, to reach an encounter with God’s merciful and healing justice. It is furthermore frequently used by totalitarian regimes and groups of fanatics for the extermination of political dissidents, minorities, and any subject labeled as ‘dangerous’ or who may be perceived as a threat to its power or to the achievement of its ends.”
6. POPE’S VISIT TO THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS
24 September 2015
In his speech Pope Francis said: “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.”
7. IN THE WORLD DAY OF PEACE MESSAGE, POPE FRANCIS REAFFIRMS CALL TO END THE DEATH PENALTY
Released from the Vatican on 8 December 2015
“With regard to prisoners, it would appear that in many cases practical measures are urgently needed to improve their living conditions, with particular concern for those
detained while awaiting trial. It must be kept in mind that penal sanctions have the aim of rehabilitation, while national laws should consider the possibility of other establishing penalties than incarceration. In this context, I would like once more to appeal to governmental authorities to abolish the death penalty where it is still in force, and to consider the possibility of an amnesty.”
(Pope Francis, From the Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for The Celebration of The XLIX World Day Of Peace – 1 January 2016)
8. CARDINAL SCHONBORN REPORTS THAT POPE IS FOLLOWING AND PRAYING FOR INMATE IN TEXAS EXECUTION CASE
19 January 2016
Vienna’s cardinal said on Monday that he is in touch with a man condemned to die in Texas this week, and that Pope Francis is following the case, too.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn told reporters at the Vatican that he has been in close touch with Richard Masterson, who is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday. He didn’t elaborate on what kind of contact they had. Masterson was convicted of strangling a female impersonator in Houston in 2001.
Attorneys for Masterson have contended his earlier lawyers were deficient and that his confession about the death of Darin Shane Honeycutt, who went by the stage name of Brandi Houston, was improper. Appeals have also argued that Masterson is innocent of the killing and that medical examiner testimony about the victim’s death was misleading.
The cardinal mentioned the case while speaking at the Vatican about church initiatives to promote mercy, a quality Francis has been stressing.
“Richard has been waiting 12 years for his execution,” Cardinal Schoenborn said. “It is frightening.” He said that the Pope has been informed about Masterson and is following the situation. During his papacy, Francis has reinforced earlier Vatican teaching that capital punishment cannot be justified.
9. POPE FRANCIS MET SR. HELEN PREJEAN, WHO GAVE HIM A PERSONAL LETTER FROM A MAN ON DEATH ROW IN OKLAHOMA
21 January 2016
Pope Francis met Sister Helen Prejean, who gave him a personal letter from a man on death row in Oklahoma.
Richard Glossip wrote to the Pope thanking him for his support last year as his execution was quickly approaching and the letter was hand delivered by Sister Helen Prejean.
Sister Helen is Glossip’s spiritual advisor on death row and is a noted anti-death penalty advocate who is working across the country to abolish capital punishment. She said that Glossip also wanted to thank the Pope for his message to U.S. lawmakers on abolishing the death penalty.
Pope Francis had made a request of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to spare the life of Glossip just before his scheduled execution last fall.
His execution was halted because prison officials discovered they had received the wrong drug needed to carry out a legal execution and the last minute reprieve was considered by many as a sign of divine intervention.
Pope Francis assured the nun of his continuous prayerful support for all those who are sentenced to death and those who are executed, as it happened only some days before, with Richard Masterson, a man executed in Texas.
10. POPE FRANCIS: GOD CANNOT BE INDIFFERENT TO THE SUFFERING OF THOSE WHO ARE CONDEMNED TO DEATH
27 January 2016
Pope Francis, during the General Audience, said: “Mercy cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of the oppressed, to the cry of those who are subjected to violence,
reduced to slavery, condemned to death. It is a painful reality that afflicts every era, including ours, and which often makes us feel powerless, tempted to harden our heart and think of something else. However, God is not indifferent.”
General Audience – Saint Peter’s Square – Wednesday, 27 January 2016
11. THE POPE’S SPEECH TO PRISONERS IN CIUDAD JUAREZ
17 February 2016
“United to you and with you today, I want to reiterate once more the confidence that Jesus urges us to have: the mercy that embraces everyone and is found in every corner of the world.”
“There is no place beyond the reach of his mercy, no space or person it cannot touch.”
“Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy with you is recalling the pressing journey that we must undertake in order to break the cycle of violence and crime. We have already lost many decades thinking and believing that everything will be resolved by isolating, separating, incarcerating, and ridding ourselves of problems, believing that these policies really solve problems. We have forgotten to focus on what must truly be our concern: people’s lives; their lives, those of their families, and those who have suffered because of this cycle of violence.”
“At times it may seem that prisons are intended more to prevent people from committing crimes than to promote the process of rehabilitation that allows us to address the social, psychological and family problems which lead a person to act in a certain way. The problem of security is not resolved only by incarcerating; rather, it calls us to intervene by confronting the structural and cultural causes of insecurity that impact the entire social framework.“
“Speak with your loved ones, tell them of your experiences, help them to put an end to this cycle of violence and exclusion. The one who has suffered the greatest pain, and we could say “has experienced hell”, can become a prophet in society. Work so that this society which uses people and discards them will not go on claiming victims.” 12. Pope Francis calls for worldwide abolition on the eve of the Community of Sant’Egidio conference “For a world without the death penalty”
12. SUNDAY ANGELUS PRAYER
21 February 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The international conference “For a world without the death penalty,” promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio will take place in Rome tomorrow. I hope this symposium gives a renewed strength to efforts to abolish capital punishment. A sign of hope is the development of a growing opposition to the death penalty in public opinion, even as a social instrument of legitimate defense. Today modern societies have the opportunity to fight crime effectively without permanently removing the chance of redemption from those who have committed crimes. This issue has to be considered within the perspective of a penal justice which is more and more in compliance with human dignity and God’s plan for humanity and society. The commandment “You shall not kill,” has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.
The special Jubilee of Mercy is a propitious occasion to promote, throughout the world, ever more mature forms of respect for life and the dignity of every person. Even a criminal maintains an inviolable right to life, which is a gift of God. I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty. And I propose, to those among them who are Catholic, to make a courageous and exemplary gesture by seeking a moratorium on executions during this Holy Year of Mercy.
All Christians and people of good will are called today to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve the conditions of life in prison, in respect of human dignity of persons deprived of liberty.
13. ON THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON
May 11, 2016
Jesus does not describe a Father who is offended and resentful, a Father that, for instance, says to his son: “you’ll pay for this.” No, the Father embraces him, awaits him with love. On the contrary, the only thing that the Father has at heart is that this son is before him safe and sound, and this makes him happy and he celebrates.
The son certainly knows he has erred and he acknowledges it: “I have sinned … treat me as one of your hired servants”(v. 19). But these words dissolve in face of the Father’s forgiveness. His Father’s embrace and kiss make him understand that he was always considered son, despite everything. This teaching of Jesus is important: our condition of children of God is fruit of the love of the Father’s heart; it does not depend on our merits or our actions and, therefore, no one can take it away, not even the devil! No one can take away this dignity.
I also think of those who are in prison, and who think that their life has ended; of all those who have made mistaken choices and are unable to look at the future; of all those who hunger for mercy and forgiveness and believe that they do not merit it … In whatever situation of life, I must not forget that I will never cease to be a child of God, of a Father who loves me and awaits my return. Even in the most awful situation of life, God awaits me, God wants to embrace me, God awaits me.
14. POPE FRANCIS AT THE SUMMIT OF JUDGES AND MAGISTRATES AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
June 4, 2016
“No penalty that doesn’t give hope is valid. If it doesn’t give hope, it’s torture.”
He “forcefully reiterated” the Church’s position against the death penalty: “Let it be God who chooses when the time has come.”