ROME— Pope Francis called for a world “free of the death penalty” in a video message supporting the sixth World Congress against capital punishment, currently being held in Oslo, Norway. He said the practice brings no justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance.
“Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person,” Francis said on the message released on Tuesday.
“It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice,” the pope said.
The pontiff defined growing opposition to the practice as a “sign of hope,” saying that it’s not “consonant with any purpose of punishment.”
“It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance,” Francis said in Spanish.
The congress is being organized by the French ONG Ensemble contre la peine de mort and the World Coalition Against Death Penalty. It began on Tuesday, and will continue until June 23.
According to the World Coalition’s website, the three-day gathering unites members of civil society, politicians, and legal experts to elaborate abolitionist strategies for the years to come at the national, regional, and international levels
It also aims to send a message to the world: “Universal abolition is essential for a world where progress and justice must prevail.”
The previous congress was held in Madrid in 2013.
In the video, Francis also said that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” applies both for the innocent and to the guilty, adding that the Jubilee of Mercy is an occasion for promoting more evolved forms of respect for the life of each person.
Earlier in the year, he had proposed Catholic government leaders “make a courageous and exemplary gesture by seeking a moratorium on executions during this Holy Year of Mercy.”
As he has done several times before, the Argentine pontiff also called for an improvement of prison conditions so that they respect the dignity of does incarcerated. Rendering justice, he said, “does not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but ensuring that the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender.”
According to Francis, the system of penal justice must allow the guilty party’s reinsertion in society, because “There’s no fitting punishment without hope!”
“Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment,” he said.
Over 1,300 participants from 80 countries are participating in the congress, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the traditional teaching of the Church “does not exclude” recourse to the death penalty when it is “the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.” It adds, however, that today such cases are “very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
In 2015, at least 1,634 prisoners were executed across 25 countries, and 1,998 people were sentenced to death across 61 countries, a record for the past 25 years. In that landscape, the advance of the abolitionist trend still encounters great resistance across Asia and the Arab world.
Statistics show that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran were responsible for 89 percent of the recorded executions last year, but these figures don’t take into account China, where information in this issue is classified as a state secret.
Of the 195 independent states recognized by the United Nations, 103 have abolished capital punishment for all crimes, six retain it for exceptional circumstances, such as crimes committed in wartime, 49 retain it but haven’t applied it in at least ten years, and 37 retain it both in law and practice.
The United States is one of two countries in the Americas where the death penalty is still practiced, with the other being St. Kitts & Nevis, a dual-island nation situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.