He told representatives from the International Association of Penal Law: “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 Catholic pope said the media and politicians advocated “violence and revenge, public and private, not only against those responsible for crimes, but also against those under suspicion, justified or not”.
Catholic teaching does not proscribe capital punishment, the pope said.
According to the Catechism, “the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. But modern advances mean that cases in which execution is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent,” he insisted.
The pope, who lived for many years under a repressive military regime in Argentina, which was responsible for the forced disappearance and murder of thousands of civilians, said that there was a misconception in today’s world that all social problems can be cured through punishment, “as if different diseases could all be cured by the same medicine”.
He said that Christians must also oppose lifelong incarceration as “a hidden death penalty”. The Vatican recently eliminated life imprisonment from its own penal code.
“All Christians and men of good faith are therefore called upon today to fight, not only for the abolition of the death penalty – whether it is legal or illegal and in all its forms… and this, for me, is linked to life sentences. A sentence of life (without parole) is a hidden death penalty.”
Francis also condemned the process of extraordinary rendition, used by the CIA since the September 11th attacks. He said some states used ‘extra-judicial executions’ as an unintended consequence of an action.
Francis also warned against the use of pretrial detention. He said it is being used improperly as another form of unlawful punishment that is “hidden behind legality”.
He said: “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.”
He continued: “Criminal code itself bears responsibility for having allowed, in certain cases, the legitimacy of torture under certain conditions, opening the way for further abuse.”