In his address to Congress yesterday, Pope Francis reiterated his conviction that the death penalty should be abolished.
Cheers and applause broke out in response to Pope Francis’ reminder that he has “from the beginning of [his] ministry,” advocated “for the global abolition of the death penalty.”
“I am convinced that this way is the best,” he continued, “since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops first called for an end to the death penalty 25 years ago, and recently renewed that call for abolition, the pope said. “Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
In March, Pope Francis strongly condemned capital punishment in a letter to the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, calling the death penalty “inhumane” and “unacceptable” regardless of the crime.
“It is an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person which contradicts God’s plan for man and for society and his merciful justice, and it fails to conform to any just purpose of punishment,” he wrote. “It does not render justice to the victims, but rather foments revenge.” He also said that the death penalty loses its legitimacy due to what he called the imperfection of human justice, noting that there could be errors in the process leading to a person’s execution.
The pope’s remarks come at a time when the national conversation is replete with questions about the death penalty in America. Two Supreme Court justices last Term questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty in part because it is too often discriminatory and unreliable. Lawmakers in Nebraska this year abolished the death penalty in that conservative state.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he is “more open” to abolishing the death penalty after hearing the pope’s address. “I very deeply believe we need to profoundly rethink what we’ve done over the past 25 years in criminal justice,” he said yesterday. Gingrich, who once proposed the death penalty for drug possession, said, “You do want to be careful not to execute someone that you find later on, as we’ve found, to be innocent.”