Pope Francis contra life imprisonment

The pope has often stated that life sentences are morally on a par with the death penalty, and suggests that to oppose the latter requires opposing the former as well. Here are the implications and problems with his reasoning.

Lady of Justice (us.fotolia.com/Robert Wilson)

The white supremacist Buffalo shooter who murdered ten people has been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  According to scripture, natural law theory, and traditional Catholic moral theology alike, he is worthy of death.  It follows that this lesser penalty can hardly be unjust.  However, it seems that Pope Francis would disapprove of it.  For he has on many occasions condemned this sort of punishment as on a par with the death penalty, which he has also famously condemned.  I discussed this neglected but problematic aspect of the pope’s teaching in Catholic World Report article originally published in 2019, and he has since then made further statements along the same lines.  Current events make the topic worth revisiting.

The pope’s statements on the topic

I am aware of at least ten occasions on which Pope Francis has condemned life sentences.  Let’s review them in order.  In an address to the International Association of Penal Law on October 23, 2014, the pope said:

All Christians and men of good will are thus called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom.  And I link this to life imprisonment.  Recently the life sentence was taken out of the Vatican’s Criminal Code.  A life sentence is just a death penalty in disguise.

In a March 20, 2015 letter to the president of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, Francis wrote:

Life imprisonment, as well as those sentences which, due to their duration, render it impossible for the condemned to plan a future in freedom, may be considered hidden death sentences, because with them the guilty party is not only deprived of his/her freedom, but insidiously deprived of hope.  But, even though the criminal justice system may appropriate the guilty parties’ time, it must never take away their hope.

In comments made to the press in September of 2015, the pope approvingly referred to calls to end life imprisonment, comparing the punishment to “dying every day” and a “hidden death penalty,” insofar as the prisoner is “without the hope of liberation.”

In a November 2016 interview, Pope Francis condemned capital punishment, saying that “if a penalty doesn’t have hope, it’s not a Christian penalty, it’s not human.”  For the same reason he went on to condemn life imprisonment as a “sort of hidden death penalty” insofar as it also deprives the prisoner of hope.

In remarks made to prison inmates in August of 2017, the pope called for their reintegration into society and said that a punishment without a “horizon of hope” amounts to “an instrument of torture.”

In his December 17, 2018 address to a delegation of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, Francis stated that “despite the gravity of the crime committed, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is always inadmissible because it offends the inviolability and dignity of the person.”  He then immediately went on to say:

Likewise, the Magisterium of the Church holds that life sentences, which take away the possibility of the moral and existential redemption of the person sentenced and in favour of the community, are a form of death penalty in disguise… God is a Father who always awaits the return of his son, who, aware he has made a mistake, asks forgiveness and begins a new life.  Thus, life cannot be taken from anyone, nor the hope of one’s redemption and reconciliation with the community.

In a September 2019 audience with penitentiary staff and prison chaplains, the pope said:

It is up to every society … to ensure that the penalty does not compromise the right to hope, that prospects for reconciliation and reintegration are guaranteed… Life imprisonment is not the solution to problems – I repeat: life imprisonment is not the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved… Never deprive one of the right to start over.

In remarks made to a meeting on prison ministry in November 2019, Pope Francis stated:

You cannot talk about paying a debt to society from a jail cell without windows… There is no humane punishment without a horizon.  No one can change their life if they don’t see a horizon.  And so many times we are used to blocking the view of our inmates… Take this image of the windows and the horizon and ensure that in your countries the prisons always have a window and horizon; even a life sentence – which for me is questionable – even a life sentence would have to have a horizon.

In an in-flight press conference, also in November 2019, the pope said:

The sentence should always allow for reintegration.  A sentence without a “ray of hope” toward a horizon is inhuman.  Including life sentences.  One must think about how a person serving a life sentence can be reintegrated, inside or outside.  But the horizon is always necessary, the reintegration. You might say to me: but there are mentally ill detainees, due to illness, madness, genetically incurable, so to speak … In this case, one must seek a way in which they can do things to make them feel like people.

Finally, and most significantly, in his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis stated:

All Christians and people of good will are today called to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, legal or illegal, in all its forms, but also to work for the improvement of prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their freedom.  I would link this to life imprisonment… A life sentence is a secret death penalty.

As far as I know, that is the most recent public statement the pope has made about the issue.

Implications of the pope’s teaching

Let’s note several things about these remarks.  First, the pope claims that life sentences are morally on a par with the death penalty, and suggests that to oppose the latter requires opposing the former as well.  Second, he says that the way they are similar is that they both deprive the offender of “hope” and the possibility of “redemption,” and are both “inhuman” and contrary to the “dignity” of the person.  Third, he has raised this issue repeatedly and in formal addresses, and not merely in an off-the-cuff remark or two.  Fourth, he has invoked “the Magisterium of the Church” when speaking on this issue, rather than presenting it as a mere personal opinion.  Indeed, with Fratelli Tutti he has proposed this teaching at the level of an encyclical.

Fifth, and remarkably, the pope seems to object not only to life sentences, but to any sentences of an especially long duration.  For in his March 20, 2015 letter he criticizes “life imprisonment, as well as those sentences which, due to their duration, render it impossible for the condemned to plan a future in freedom” (emphasis added).  Pope Francis appears to be saying that it is wrong to inflict on any offender a sentence that is so long that it would prevent him from returning eventually to a normal life outside of prison.

Now, the implications of all this are quite remarkable, indeed shocking.  Consider, to take just one out of innumerable possible examples, a serial murderer like Dennis Rader, who styled himself the BTK killer (for “Bind, Torture, Kill”).  He is currently in prison for life for murdering ten people, including two children, in a manner as horrific as you might expect from his chosen nickname.  If Pope Francis is right, then it is wrong to have put Rader in prison for life.  Indeed, if Pope Francis is right, then Rader should not be in prison for any length of time that might prevent him from being able to “plan a future in freedom.”  Rader is 74 years old, so that would imply that Rader should be let out fairly soon so that he can plan how to live out the few years remaining to him.  And if the pope is right, the same thing is true of other aging serial killers.  Presumably the pope would put conditions on their release, such as realistic assurances that they are not likely to kill again.  But his words certainly entail that it would be wrong to deny at least the possibility of parole to any of them, no matter how heinous or numerous their crimes.

But even this doesn’t really capture the enormity of what Pope Francis is saying.  Consider the Nuremberg trials, at which many Nazi war criminals were sentenced to death or life imprisonment.  Pope Francis’s view would imply that all of these sentences were unjust!  Indeed, Pope Francis’s position seems to entail that, had Hitler survived the war, it would have been wrong to sentence him to more than about twenty years in prison!  For Hitler was in his fifties when he died, so that if he had been sentenced to more than that, he could not “plan a future in freedom” – as a greengrocer or crossing guard, perhaps.  Pope Francis’s views imply that the Nuremberg judges should have been at least open to the possibility of letting Hitler off with such a light sentence and letting him return to a normal life – despite being guilty of the Holocaust and of fomenting World War II!  Perhaps Pope Francis would shrink from these implications of his views.  One hopes so.  But they are the implications of his views.

Now, Mike Lewis, editor of the website Where Peter Ishas claimed that the pope’s statements on this subject have been distorted by his critics.  Lewis says that in the 2019 in-flight press conference quoted above, the pope indicates that “of course there are cases when releasing someone is impossible… because of the danger that they pose to society or themselves.”  This suffices to refute “the more hysterical criticism” by “papal detractors [who] made it sound like he wants serial killers set loose.”

But this completely misses the point.  So far as I know, no one is claiming that Pope Francis has said that we must release serial killers and the like even when they are known to remain dangerous.  They claim rather that the pope appears to think they ought to be released as long as they are not dangerous.  Not only does Lewis not deny this, he approvingly describes the implications of Francis’s views as follows:

Where a prisoner has clearly experienced a dramatic conversion or change of heart, demonstrated over time, and the risk of a return to former ways is deemed negligible – the merciful response is to give that person a second chance at life on the outside.

What the critics object to is precisely this.  The criticism is that, even when the very worst offenders are no longer dangerous, it would simply be a miscarriage of justice to release them, given the enormity of their crimes.  Suppose, for example, that the BTK killer or a Nazi war criminal “clearly experienced a dramatic conversion or change of heart” and could be known to pose no threat to anyone.  By the pope’s criteria, as Lewis himself interprets him, such an offender should be released from prison – regardless of how absurdly light his sentence would then be compared to the many lives he took, the trauma he caused the families of the victims, and the chaos he introduced into the social order.

Lewis also claims that the qualification that offenders who remain a threat should not be released “was always implicit” in Pope Francis’s teaching on life imprisonment.  But as anyone can see who reads the remarks from the pope I quoted above, that is clearly not true.  Out of ten occasions on which the pope has addressed this issue, there is only a single one – the November 2019 in-flight press conference – where he even comes close to qualifying his teaching in this way.  Moreover, the qualification is off-the-cuff and not clearly stated.  In every other case, including the formal context of an encyclical, the pope speaks in an extreme and peremptory way, not even acknowledging, much less answering, the obvious questions raised by his teaching on life imprisonment.  Lewis is correct that it is plausible to suppose that Francis would not want to release offenders who remain deadly threats.  But the fact that he has repeatedly failed clearly to make even this obvious qualification illustrates the persistent lack of nuance or caution in the pope’s statements on the subject.

Doctrinal and practical problems

This brings us to several serious problems with Pope Francis’s teaching on life imprisonment – the first being that, like other novel and controversial claims the pope has made, it is not presented clearly or systematically or in a manner that addresses the many grave doctrinal and practical difficulties it opens up.

For example, if life imprisonment, and indeed even sentences so long that they would not allow an offender to plan for a return to society, are off the table, exactly what is the maximum sentence the pope would allow?  Should a mass murderer get the same maximum penalty as a one-time murderer or a recidivist bank robber?  Is there at least some minimum sentence that an offender ought to receive for the gravest crimes?  Or should parole be possible as long as repentance seems genuine, no matter how short the time served in prison?  How is the prospect of imprisonment supposed to deter the gravest crimes if the offender knows that he will not get even a life sentence for committing them (let alone the death penalty)?  How are police and prosecutors going to get the most stubborn offenders to cooperate with investigations if they are unable to threaten them with life imprisonment?  Is the pope saying that life imprisonment is intrinsically evil?  Or only that it is wrong under certain circumstances?  What level of certainty do we need to have about an offender’s repentance and likelihood to behave himself before letting him out again?  Is the burden of proof on the offender to prove that he should be let out – or rather (as the pope’s teaching seems to imply) is the burden of proof on governing authorities to prove that the offender should not be let out?  Again, the pope does not even acknowledge, much less answer, such (rather obvious) questions.

A second problem is doctrinal.  The claim that it is wrong to inflict a penalty of life imprisonment, or even a very long imprisonment, conflicts with the traditional teaching of the Church that “legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense” (as the Catechism states).  For certain crimes are manifestly so grave that nothing short of life imprisonment would be proportionate to their gravity – for example, serial killing and genocide.  To say that not only the death penalty, but life imprisonment or even long imprisonments, must never be inflicted, would be to strip the principle of proportionality of all meaning.

A third problem is that the pope’s claim that long imprisonments deprive the offender of hope seems to presuppose a secular rather than Catholic understanding of hope.  In Catholic theology, hope is a theological virtue.  It has nothing to do with looking forward to pleasant circumstances in this life.  As St. Paul wrote, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (I Corinthians 15:19).  Rather, hope has to do with the desire for eternal life and trust in God to provide the graces needed to attain it.  Now, life imprisonment is in no way contrary to hope in this sense.  On the contrary, as the Catechism teaches, “when [punishment] is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation.”  And the possibility of expiation for sin is precisely a reason for hope.  Accepting the penalty of life imprisonment as one’s just deserts can mitigate the temporal punishment one would otherwise have to suffer in purgatory.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine how an offender like the BTK killer or a Nazi war criminal could plausibly be said to be repentant in the first place if he had the effrontery to request going back to a normal life outside of prison despite the enormity of the evil he inflicted.  You might say that, with the worst offenders, the very fact that they want to be released itself proves that they should not be released.

As I have argued elsewhere, when one considers all the details of Pope Francis’s statements on capital punishment together with the consistent teaching of scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and all previous popes, the only plausible way to interpret his teaching is as a prudential judgment that is not binding on the faithful, rather than a doctrinal development with which they must agree.  This clearly applies a fortiori to his teaching on life imprisonment, which is even less clearly or systematically stated and even more out of harmony with the traditional doctrine of the Church.

In our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Joe Bessette and I discuss in some detail the teaching of Pope Pius XII on the topic of crime and punishment (at pp. 128-34).  It was a theme he treated in a series of addresses, and to our knowledge, no other pope has come close to setting out Catholic doctrine on the matter at such length or in such a systematic way.  Now, Pius’s teaching is entirely in line with the Thomistic natural law approach to punishment that Bessette and I expound and defend in our book.  Pius emphasizes how retributive justice must always be factored in when considering what punishments to inflict, even if it is not the only consideration.  He rejects the idea that punishment should consider only what is conducive to rehabilitating the offender and deterring him from future offenses.  Rather, guilt for past offenses is enough to justify inflicting a penal harm on the offender, and this penalty ought to be proportionate to the offense.  Indeed, Pius says that this is the most important function of punishment.  He considers the suggestion that such a retributive aim reflects past historical circumstances and is no longer fitting in modern times – and he explicitly rejects such claims as incompatible with scripture and the traditional teaching of the Church.  While condemning excessively harsh punishments, he also warns that there is an opposite error of making punishments too lenient, and that making punishments proportionate to the offense is the key to avoiding both errors.  Unsurprisingly, in light of all this, Pius explicitly affirmed on several occasions the continuing legitimacy of inflicting capital punishment in the case of the most heinous crimes.  Obviously, it would follow logically that life imprisonment can be a justifiable punishment too.

Any Catholic who wants to think seriously about these issues should study Pope Pius’s teaching carefully.  Again, in our book, Joe Bessette and I discuss it in detail, providing many quotations from the relevant texts.  Now, it is very hard to see how the teaching of Pope Francis can be reconciled with that of Pope Pius XII, with respect either to their conclusions or the principles they appeal to in reaching those conclusions.  To be sure, as with Pope Francis, Pope Pius did not make any ex cathedra pronouncements on the subject.  However, in the case of Pope Pius, we have teaching that is set out in a very clear, detailed, and systematic way; that is perfectly consistent with scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, all prior popes, and the natural law theory that the Church has adopted as the core of her moral theology; and whose implications and applications to concrete circumstances are straightforward and unproblematic.  By contrast, with Pope Francis, we have teaching that is unsystematic and embodied in extreme and sweeping assertions rather than precise doctrinal formulations; that is novel and hard to reconcile with scripture and tradition; and which opens up many grave but unaddressed difficulties where practical application is concerned.

Given these considerations, together with the fact that Pope Francis’s teaching is most plausibly read as prudential and non-binding, it is hard to see how a Catholic could be obligated to agree with Francis over Pius where their teaching seems to conflict.  In any event, here as in other areas (such as Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, and capital punishment), Pope Francis has muddied the doctrinal waters.  And in this case there are dire implications not only for the faithful’s trust in the Magisterium (which would be bad enough), but also for the social order more generally.  Like the successors of popes Honorius and John XXII (who also generated doctrinal crises), the successors of Pope Francis will have their work cut out for them.

(Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared on Dr. Feser’s blog in a slightly different form and is reprinted here with the author’s kind permission.)

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About Dr. Edward Feser 39 Articles
Edward Feser is the author of several books on philosophy and morality, including All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory (Ignatius Press, August 2022), and Five Proofs of the Existence of God and is co-author of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, both also published by Ignatius Press.


  1. Recently discussed was Card Gerhard Müller’s objection to Pope Francis’ assumption that the death penalty was dogmatic teaching. The implication [from this writer’s perspective] in that understanding is that dogma can be changed. Müller argued the penalty was not revealed doctrine and consequently not dogmatic. And consequently changeable.
    Dr Feser presents a strong argument based on Natural Law. Specifically as structured by Pius XII on the legitimacy of the death penalty. Whether Natural Law is unchangeable was argued positively by Josef Fuchs SJ in his text Natural Law [Fuchs’ distinguished the natural law of the creator to the soteriological love of the redeemer arguing for legitimate change]. Whereas Natural Law is ordained by God in Man, as such is consistent with the divine will. Aquinas says Natural Law is a reflection of the Eternal Law.
    Although I hesitate to disagree with such a knowledgeable, credentialed theologian as Card Müller, there are first principles of Natural Law that are indeed unchangeable. To wit, it’s not necessary for a law to be revealed in order for it to be unchangeable. Although, that is, if it can be demonstrated that the death penalty is merely a temporal cultural institution. In that context, Feser’s presentation of Pius’ articulation on the death penalty is convincing.

    • Another point I find convincing is Pope John Paul’s definitive, and therefore infallible, teaching given in Evangelium Vitae:

      “the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.”

      The use of the word “innocent”is necessary to the teaching’s inerrancy – thus the Holy Spirit, protecting Pope John Paul from inerrancy, guaranteed that he would not give this teaching while omitting the word.

        • Although, Duane, there instances when defining is a necessary component of an infallible pronouncement. “Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart [cf. Rom 2:14–15], is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium” (John Paul II Evangelium Vitae).
          What Michael Petek said is correct.
          John Paul II repeats the infallible pronouncement made by the German bishops July 6, 1941, under the auspices of Pope Pius XII, read from the pulpit of every German Catholic church, that “Never, under any circumstances, except in war and justified self-defense, is it permissible to kill an innocent human being”.

  2. Two comments, one about “hope” and the other about Pius XII’s retention of “retributive aims”:
    FIRST, as for prison sentences and the opportunity for penitence and “hope”, there’s this: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” ― Samuel Johnson.
    SECOND, in the new Catechism language on the death penalty, the concept and legitimacy of “retribution”—as distinguished from vengeance—is not explicitly erased, while in another part of the Catechism (divine retribution, nn. 1021-22, 2016) retribution remains intact. Silence broadly means consent. So, can we conclude that under St. John Paul II’s prudential judgment; and now even under Pope Francis’ nuanced, circumstantial, and seemingly absolutized(?) term “inadmissible,” the theological legitimacy of proportionate retribution is not denied?

  3. This is an important topic that resonates with other very timely questions.

    Such as, is our civilization so enervated, so feckless, so self-loathing that we lack the resolve even to protect our citizens from crime?

    And, are we so committed to viewing people as groups rather than individuals that we are no longer able to hold individuals responsible for their actions, preferring to view even criminals as victims?

    Dr. Feser’s clear-eyed dissection of Bergoglio’s evanescent ramblings on the topic of criminal justice is a great gift to the Catholic Church.

    He pinpoints the illogic — no, better, the emotive, insubstantial, almost somnolent quality — of the pope’s thinking. He shows why every idea, proposal or order that Bergoglio comes up with needs to be painstakingly considered and exhaustively examined prior to implementation.

    Bergoglio is not a clear thinker. In fact, his thinking seems to consist mostly of emotions, with some assumptions, random thoughts and desires thrown in.

    That he has an exaggerated view of his own intelligence goes without saying. Any view of his intelligence is exaggerated.

    He’s a small man, in over his head.

    The good news? The chances of another Jesuitical becoming pope in the next, say, thousand years would seem slim to nil.

    Thank you, Dr. Feser. Your prose is as muscular and as pragmatic as your logic.

    • I oppose the death penalty because governments are both flawed and corrupt to some extent.
      Errors are made; unintentional in some cases and deliberate in others.
      In the US it costs more to execute them than to keep them in prison for life.
      Prisoners should have access to shrinks, chaplains and books of a religious nature only.
      That PF would loose a maniac as Charles Manson and his perverse women on innocent people is a staggering repudiation to his juvenile utopian Modernism.
      Let the pope keep in mind that the Almighty sentences for eternal life not just this one. “Be perfect as your Father is perfect”.

      • That’s one of the reasons I oppose capital punishment in *virtually* every situation.
        If one doesn’t trust the govt. to tax us fairly, to run our schools, or provide healthcare why would we trust them in matters of life & death?

        I just returned from a visit to Blessed Miguel Pro’s shrine in Mexico City. The little museum next door has graphic photos of his capital punishment.

      • Of course, governments are flawed and corrupt to one degree or another. They always have been and always will be. That does not mean that they do have a responsibility to uphold the law and punish criminals, up to and including inflicting the death penalty in certain cases. The worst totalitarian regimes do not act illegitimately whey they punish common criminals.

        • One can survive an unjust punishment or incarceration but not an unjust execution.

          The question of imposing a life sentence or a death sentence often is determined by the accused’s financial ability to retain decent legal representation.

    • No one seems to be mentioning St. Thomas’ teaching that capital punishment (and regicide) is allowed when a criminal is a danger to the welfare of the state. With super max prisons, at least in the West, capital punishment would be hard to justify. Of course saying life in prison without parole is immoral…well, that’s a new one.

      • Yup, it’s conceivable that even in modern correctional settings capital punishment might be the only way to defend society from a dangerous criminal but it would be extremely rare.
        Another consideration are the lives of other inmates and prison staff. Their lives have value also and can be threatened by imprisoned killers.

  4. Pope Francis is wrong on the Death Penalty. He is wrong on Life Imprisonment. He is wrong on opposing Just War Theory. He is wrong on illegal immigration. He is wrong on God willing the “Diversity of religions” (which would be true if it was God’s permissive will but false if it were God’s active will, as he seems to hint).He is wrong on his handling of sexual abuse. He is wrong on his handling of corruption in the Vatican. He is wrong on his handling of the Liturgy.
    In fact, I struggle to find any subject he is right on.

  5. How can anyone take a position on the issue of capital punishment without considering the spiritual implications of death and judgment?

    Sister Helen Préjean is the Louisiana nun whose book “Dead Man Walking” was made into a feature film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. Reeking with false compassion for convicted murderers awaiting execution on death row, both the book and the movie offered an emotional appeal for the prohibition of capital punishment. Ironically, Sister Helen has conceded in at least one interview that some of the condemned men to whom she has ministered have experienced conversion as a direct result of knowing the certain date of their departure from this world. Nevertheless, she seems unable to recognize that salvation is a greater good than life itself, and persists in opposing the one means available for rescuing especially hard cases from certain damnation.

    Girl genius Marilyn vos Savant recently devoted half of her “Ask Marilyn” column in Parade magazine to a consideration of the pros and cons of capital punishment, without once mentioning the possibility of an afterlife and the correlation between reconciliation and the prospect of eternal punishment. Marilyn conceded that she considers “capital murder far more abhorrent than . . . capital punishment” and for that reason “reluctantly support[s] the administration of the death penalty.” She insisted, however, that she could find “nothing positive about the concept of capital punishment.” Apparently, Marilyn hasn’t searched hard enough.

    Anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the positive effects of capital punishment would be well advised to read “The Consolation of Philosophy,” by Boethius, or Herman Melville’s short story “Billy Budd.” One is a factual, the other a fictional, account of a man unjustly condemned to death who nevertheless overcomes his bitterness and self-pity and, recognizing the blessing in his misfortune, seizes the opportunity to save his soul. Atheists and agnostics, depending on their temperament, view capital punishment either as just or vengeful. Only the faithful, however, can see it for what it really is, the ultimate act of mercy. That so few of the faithful do see it this way is, perhaps, a judgment on their faith.

    Assuming that eternal life — in heaven or hell — awaits us after our brief sojourn on earth, anything that redounds to our salvation must be counted as more valuable than human life itself. Far from being inhumane, then, a death sentence is one of the greatest blessings we sinners can receive. By focusing the mind on the mortality that most of us ignore, it provides a compelling incentive for reconciliation. This applies even to those rare few who’ve been falsely convicted.

    How many “victims” of capital punishment (not to mention terminal illness) might have been damned without the knowledge of their imminent demise? Do they share our mortal squeamishness in paradise? Not likely. They undoubtedly conclude, and rightly so, that we place too much emphasis on this life and too little on the next.

  6. “Bergolio is not a clear thinker”. Understatement. Feser is.
    In a recent episode of Choose Agape, Katherine Bennett’s blog, she interviews Dr. Feser. Well worth watching.

  7. Correction, natural law is not theory. It’s true that certain philosophizing refers to it as theory; where in fact that is one of the moments where philosophy immediately goes awry. It may be valid at times to discuss it in some theoretical state. I think; but if it could be left that way it will be insufficient and incomplete and it would most surely not be binding and it would be changeable.

  8. A cultural Marxist (a man of the world) always has the best view of matters (at least in his minds eye). They tend not to believe in a higher power, disdaining the word of God. However, for the believer, His word is an infallible guide to a well ordered society. God is unchanging, let us conform ourselves to His will.

    Exodus 20:13 “You shall not murder.

    Romans 13:9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

    Deuteronomy 5:17 “‘You shall not murder.

    Genesis 9:5-6 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

    Exodus 21:14 But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.

    • CATHOLIC CORRECTION to another one of Brian Young’s harmful errors…found this time in his February 27, 2023 comments published by CWR at 7:18 AM.

      Brian repeats a classic Protestant false understanding by stating the following:

      “…the word of God. However, for the believer, His word is an infallible guide to a well ordered society.”

      This statement regarding the bible as a would-be infallible guide arises in part from the heretical belief in sola scriptura and the absurd notion of the legitimacy of personal interpretation, but as the One True, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church rightly teaches, only the Bible approved by the Catholic Church is inerrant — not infallible, and this distinction is important and will be elaborated upon shortly. First, however, note that No Protestant version like the English Standard Version that Brian uses for his oft-times superfluous lists of quotations enjoys the gift of inerrancy except and only insofar as it contains those statements that coincide directly and accurately with statements found in bibles approved by the Catholic Church.

      Still, no bible in and of itself is an infallible guide to a well-ordered society as wrongly proclaimed by Brian. Infallibility pertains to charisms or special gifts given to some designated people like the Pope in limited circumstances or a council of the Bishops united with the Pope when they pronounce on certain things. This gift of infallibility is not granted to anyone outside the Catholic Church. It also does not pertain to the Bible itself, but as mentioned previously, the Catholic Bible is inerrant, which means in and of itself it contains no error. As such, it does not prevent anyone from making an error in how they interpret the inerrant word of God, and only Catholic interpretations of the Holy Bible to the extent that such have been definitively pronounced are infallible interpretations.

      So good Catholics, do not be deceived. We rightly believe in an infallible Church when its leadership performs its duties in certain ways, and we fully appreciate the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, but we do not accept the false Protestant claims arising out of the harmful belief of sola scriptura that, in its corollary claim that the bible is infallible, is just another way of saying that their Protestant interpretations and beliefs are infallible, so there is no need for a Pope or Bishops despite the fact that our Lord and Savior established these callings in part to aid us in properly interpreting the Holy Scriptures instead of proudly and wrongly relying on personal interpretation and the malevolence of sola scriptura promoted by Protestants.

      • Dear DocVerit:

        You don’t like my words, however I am not much satisfied with them either! Far better to hear what God says on a subject. When He enjoins us to proceed on a pathway, is it not for our highest and best interest? Which of the following might you disagree with, or what do you present that takes us to a higher level?

        Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

        Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

        John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

        Luke 11:28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

        2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

        Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

        Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

        God bless you as you consider above,

        Brian Young

  9. One could argue that it is the modern church itself that has made murky the true “horizon of hope” by letting the realistic fear of eternal misery disappear from the conversation. They articulate no case for the danger, even at the highest levels like Pope Francis, and so let earthly happiness become the only standard that anyone sees or considers. It follows then that hope for earthly release, rather than release from eternal punishment, is what guides the thought of even the vicar of Christ. All of this is of one garment, seamless of not. “Good Catholic” Joe Biden does not fear any punishment for aiding and abetting the mass murder of children. Those who bless unions that can only be faux consummated by sodomy do not fear that the God they claim to serve meant what He said. All these things are linked but hidden in a cloud of confusion that amounts perhaps to a slow unfolding of apostasy.

  10. It is a tragic mistake to empower totalitarian states with the Justice of a death penalty. It is not a moral issue but a political one. As this nation deteriorates into a socialist totalitarian quagmire the opportunity to eliminate their opponents will become increasingly attractive. So much do one May fear that we will echo the gulags of Russia or the cultural revolutions of Mao. The J6 trials show how far we are fallen. It is stupid to support the State killing its own citizens. The fact that some think it helps us confront eternity is just too bizarre for words. Logically we can extend that to say we’d all be better off facing immediate execution since it will help us save our souls. Forgive me if I abhor the state using guillotines to make martyrs.

  11. Pope Francis’ statements are uncharacteristically absolutist. Imagine what that means for judges who preside over difficult cases. Think of the years of experience they have, the years they’ve studied law, the years they’ve spent as defence lawyers defending their clients, or prosecutors, and the years they’ve had already on the bench, the number of cases they’ve studied, all the learning that has accumulated over those years, etc. The years of experience involving one judge is already beyond us, but combine that with every U.S judge, just to limit this to one country. Our Pope believes that, despite having zero experience in the study of law, zero experience in defending or prosecuting criminal cases or presiding over cases, he believes that he can push aside the accumulated experience of all these court judges and even the accumulated life experience of selected juries, essentially declaring that mountain of experience as irrelevant, and assert with confidence that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is immoral, impermissible–without even needing to study the particular case or cases at hand. That is an astounding claim.

    How is that possible for a pope to actually believe this and assert it in public? We are not talking about actions that are intrinsically evil, like abortion, or the direct killing involved in euthanasia, or adultery, etc. We are talking about the act of sentencing, which requires a detailed study of the facts of the case, and it requires a tremendous amount of experience in this field, which allows a person to ascertain whether the punishment should be 5 years, or 10 years, or 25 years, or 75 years, or life without parole. To maintain that a sentence that extends past the accused’s 60th birthday would be absurd. Even one’s 75th birthday. Should Ted Bundy have been released at an age when he would still be able to make a life for himself? What about Richard Ramirez? Should he have been released early enough for him to enjoy 10 years of freedom? What about those prisoners who have the honesty and self-knowledge to say that they should never be released? It is just not possible to decide cases in abstractio.

    With all due respect to Francis, he is eroding the credibility of the papacy. He is revealing it to be a very human office that, it seems, has no more authority than anyone else who has a certain degree of expertise.

    If Pope Francis is right, then Pius the XII was dead wrong. Either way, Francis has shown that Catholics really need to re-think the papacy, re-think how papal authority works.

  12. Its sort of ironic to hear the pontiff pontificating on yet another secular issue not in his domain. Still more irony that he will talk openly about the need to be merciful to hardened criminals who make a deliberate adult decision to maim and kill, but uttered not one word to Pelosi and Biden regarding the lack of any restrictions at all on the murder of innocent babies. Just collateral damage I guess, in today’s sexually permissive society. In today’s Gospel it can be found in Matthew 25 , Jesus saying, “…and these will go off to eternal punishment”. ETERNAL. At this point Jesus is talking simply about sins of OMISSION. Not helping to feed and clothe and care for the poor and hungry, etc. What happens to those who deliberately rape, pillage and murder he does not say. But one could imagine it is as bad, or worse a fate. HE is sentencing them to “LIFE” in hell. No parole, no second chances.Does the Pope presume to know more about appropriate punishment, or mercy, than God? We have heard far too many stories in the papers lately about criminals who, being set free by leftist Soros DA’s and judges after committing heinous crimes , have gone on the commit more murder and more mayhem. THAT is the reason for life sentences, and the death penalty. Deterrence, and safety for the public. There are some people in society who are sadly unsalvageable. Who have committed crimes so brutal and gruesome that the public simply cannot take the risk of releasing them upon an innocent public. Jail is the only place for them. The Pope has led a life insulated from that reality, with which the public must live every day. The death penalty is rarely mandated except in the face of incontrovertable evidence. In the event of any shadow of doubt, life in prison is the fallback. The constant appeals process is why it takes so many years to carry out the death penalty.. I suggest some reading for the pontiff in the way of some crime reports which describe in gruesome detail beheadings, child rape and outright murders of strangers before he next stands on his soapbox on this topic. I recall the details of a few murders which made the papers which would be too shocking to repeat here. I believe in God’s mercy. I also believe the public has a right to expect its elected officials to enforce a safe and civil society. I lately think we might benefit as a society by the return of public floggings to provide appropriate punishment and as a warning to those who might be tempted to follow the same criminal path.

    • I recall Christ’s mercy to the thief hanging on the cross next to Him. Whatever his crime: thievery, insurrection, etc. that poor man was paying the price in accordance with the standards of his day.
      I really think we can do better.
      There should be a very small window left open for capital punishment when it might be the only practical way to defend society but with modern correctional facilities that seems extremely unlikely.
      I do agree with you that there are some sociopaths that should never be let loose from prison. Clueless parole boards & plea bargaining allow that to happen on a regular basis & enable dangerous psychopaths to reoffend. And they often lose no time in doing that.

      • So, Christ did not condemn capital punishment when the opportunity presented itself because he did not want to upset the “standards of the day”. I seem to have heard that offered up as a reason for why he didn’t have any female Apostles. Also, a certain amount of leeway seems to have existed for divorce and remarriage in our Lord’s time, but it did not deter him from laying down a hardline on that matter.

        • You know Tony, I’m a card carrying NRA member who believes in the 2nd Amendment and the right to self defense. But outside of self defense I like to leave life and death up to the Lord. If execution is absolutely the only way to defend society from a sociopath, okay. Otherwise, nope. Human life is sacred, even very sorry human life and I’m very wary about giving any government the ability to take life away.

  13. The Pope is correct in this matter. Jesus teaches us to forgive, NOT seek vengeance. Prison is supposed to be a method of reform. If a person becomes reformed they should be released. Our punishments certainly are not very useful in preventing crime. If they were, we would not have so many incarcerated.

    • Vengeance indeed is often an energy behind capital punishment, but incarceration does prevent crime in that it physically removes dangerous criminals from society to a place where they can do no further harm.
      As a Christian I totally believe in redemption & forgiveness but as someone who has dealt with really terrible criminals through past employment, I also know how naïve people can be about sociopaths & the odds of them ever being authentically reformed.

      • Retribution sounds no better than vengeance really. But I do believe in keeping dangerous folks locked up. Punishment doesn’t affect sociopaths much but at least it keeps them off the streets.
        Non-sociopaths can benefit from incarceration & time to reflect on their crimes. Plus, they have a great deal of resources available to help them reform. *If* they choose to. “If” being key.

    • Prison was NEVER intended as a manner of reform. Look back to history. There were stocks, and public pillories for some crimes. Shanghai publicly beat an American visitor some years ago for posting graffiti on a public building. You better believe that more than a few people decided to obey the rules rather than be made a public spectacle. Its only in recent years that “reform and rehabilitation” has become the battle cry, and we can see how well that is working out. Not working at all. What convicted criminal wouldn’t rather be sitting in a classroom than sweating on a chain gang? What does it teach them, exactly, other than our politicians and judges can be played for fools. Convicted criminals should also serve their entire sentence. Its too easy for someone to claim to be rehabilitated when in fact they are not. Then they are released years early. I have no objection to the govt providing education and job training for prisoners. But people who injure others in an illegal criminal act belong in jail. If nothing else, the years they are locked up are years in which no one else can be hurt by them. The punishments are less than useful because of plea deals and early release, with which many evade ANY responsibility for what they have done, and gives many the idea that prison is no big deal. Some judges were so foolishly lenient that many states felt it necessary to pass a “three strikes and you’re out” law, mandating jail time EVENTUALLY for repeat violent felonies. Most blue cities are so filled with violent crime now, that decent law abiding people dare not risk living there, and chain stores are leaving in droves. I think we have seen the results of running our legal system the way bleeding heart activists have wanted it done , and it has been an abject failure.

      • LJ, I totally agree that those who are guilty should serve their full sentence. Way too many dangerous criminals are turned loose to prey again on society.
        Prisons have the resources available for reform but authentic reform is a personal choice and one that often is faked for gullible parole boards.
        As Christians we have to walk a balanced pathway between mercy and justice. Vengeance is not our goal but neither is naivete.

  14. Bishop Fulton Sheen warned that the time is coming when there will be a false church. He said there will be “a religion without a Cross. A religion without a world to come.” We clearly see this emphasis in this pontificate.

  15. CWR chose the picture of the statue of Iustitia atop Dublin Castle. I like this sculpting of Lady Justice and find it sublime. She is not blindfolded and her two-edged sword is raised not lowered. The Irish complain that she looks inward at the Court and the Revenue Authority and her back is turned away from the City and the people; but they should wake up about this, it is the people who have rebelled in their own nation. Providence has been speaking to them about a selfish streak in their history and not only have they not trusted Providence, now they have run to injustice and the self-love!

    The seat of power is under Lady Justice’s watch and she can not be corrupted, the scales remain in her sensitive balance. She is shielded at the breast and it is laid bare for all to see. Let the rebels be upbraided! Let the faithful take heart what is to come!

    ‘ For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result they have no excuse! For although they knew God they did not accord Him glory as God or give Him thanks. Instead they became vain in their reasoning and their senseless minds were darkened. ‘

    – Romans 1:19-21

  16. The church and the sick society has to accept that some people are juist wired differently. there was a program last year about murder and they tested the brain waves etc of the killers and they responded different. I have always wondered how someone could be so cruel as to use and absue ANY creation. This includes animals and humans. We cannot simply pick and choose our morals and ethics. We either love Gods creation or we dont. The church teaches we saps its ok “apparently”. GOd didnt create his wonderful world to be used and abused by any of us. We do need to lock up the nuts for their safety and public safety. The death penalty makes us no better than any killer, in fact can there be a more cold blooded murder? No! So lets all get off our high horses and start smelling the flowers because those who do think its ok to pick n choose their morals and ethics are also clearly wired up differently!! Better The Pope condemns teh west for its atrocities, crimes against humanity, making war, aggression etc lef by bullyboy usa and we its eu/uk lapdogs. Whilst we still have a planet worth saving. Finally for the vatican, or any church, to be living on a pile of cash worth billions whilst the poor starve with no homes and no hope is also a crime against humanity. Throw the lot out into teh desert and wastelands to serve people properly. The Pope is right to do away with the church franchise system where each archbishop etc get to play God over their domain is nonsense. The ultimate power should be with The Pope and when he says jump we all ask how high!! The divided church by 1001 is a failure. What has our lcoal church done for life, hope, faith or charity beyond teaching us its ok to clock on for an hour a week and serve self the rest of the time. This is what we have become…so kick them all out of the ivory towers and put some graft in –
    God in All Things

    By Gerard Hughes (Jesuit)

    Told to make himself at home, Jesus begins to invite his friends to your house. Who were his friends in ‘the Gospels, what kind of people were they, and what did respectable, religious people say about them? Who is coming along your road now, what is happening to the curtains in the house opposite, and what is happening to local property values? How are things hi your own family and with your own circle of friends, now that Jesus’s friends are also calling in?

    You may then decide that it is not right to keep Jesus confined to your own house, so you arrange for him to give a little talk in your parish church. You remember the little talk he once gave to the chief priests, the scribes and the ‘Pharisees as them that the tax-gatherers and the prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God before they did. He gives substantially the same sermon to the faithful of St Jude’s parish church. There is uproar, and the parish loses its principal benefactors.

    You return home with Jesus, who has now become the major problem or your life. As you ponder the question, ‘What am I to do with him, you know you cannot ask him to leave, for he is the Lord of all creation, so what are you to do? Perhaps. you could look around the house carefully, find a suitable cupboard, clear it out, clean it up, decorate it no expense, and have good strong locks put on the door. You then invite Jesus to step inside, turn the lock on him, put flowers and a candle in front of the cupboard door, and every time you pass, you bow deeply, You now have Jesus in your house and he does not interfere any more!

    Is this an image of what we have done with God? We lock Him away in the sacred, supernatural, heavenly, spiritual cupboard, where we can show great reverence, hold splendid services of worship, singing praises arid thanking God for the blessings bestowed on us and the prosperity granted us, This religious behaviour keeps Jesus out of the way, so that God no longer interferes in our everyday life.

    • It bears out a mindlessness, peter, throwing everybody no matter his station, into a circle with active criminals, to prove we are Christian without uproar.

      Rehabilitation including the suspension of capital punishment in the individual case, can be Christian. The life of Alessandro Serenelli shows this.

      It does not follow from the Christian logic of rehabilitation that capital punishment was a stop-gap and is “therefore” now “completely impermissible”.

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