Papal Message Reaffirms Call to Abolish Death Penalty

Pope Frances echoes the pleas of Benedict XVI and John Paul II to abolish capital punishment.

The electric chair once used for executions at New York state’s Sing Sing prison.
The electric chair once used for executions at New York state’s Sing Sing prison. (photo: Wikipedia)

MADRID — In a message to participants of the Fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty held in Madrid, Pope Francis reiterated the Holy See’s support for “the abolition of the death penalty.”

Opposition to the death penalty is part of the Church’s defense of the dignity of human life, he said, and it is “a courageous reaffirmation of the conviction that humanity can successfully confront criminality” without resorting to the suppression of life.

In his message, which was signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy Father recalled that his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II made similar pleas.

He asked that “capital sentences be commuted to a lesser punishment that allows for time and incentives for the reform of the offender.”

“Today, more than ever, it is urgent that we remember and affirm the need for universal recognition and respect for the inalienable dignity of human life, in its immeasurable value,” Cardinal Bertone wrote on behalf of Pope Francis.

The Holy Father, he added, sent his best wishes to the participants of the congress for a “fruitful development of their work.”

The director of the organization “Together Against the Death Penalty,” Rafael Chenuil Hazan, told EWTN News the Pope’s message was of great importance. 

“We thank His Holiness for his support. It is important for us to receive a message of such importance from a man of peace,” he said.

The purpose of these events, Hazan explained, is to “foster an atmosphere of dialogue among the representatives of the countries that allow the death penalty in order to open a path towards abolition.”

There are currently 57 countries in the world in which the death penalty is legal.

Among those who spoke at the congress were Joaquin Jose Martinez, a Spanish national who was sentenced to death for murder in 1997 in the United States but was released in 2001 after new evidence proved his innocence, and the family members of Pablo Ibar, the only Spanish national who is currently on death row in the United States.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Blessed John Paul II did not state that recourse to capital punishment was intrinsically immoral. But, he stated, “the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender, except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”