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Catholic Dictionary




Any ill suffered in consequence of wrongdoing. It has three functions, which ideally should be retributive as serving the offended person, corrective for the offender, and deterrent for the community at large. Punishment is retributive because it pays back the offender for his crime and re-establishes the balance of justice, which has been outraged. It is corrective when directed to improving the offender and rehabilitating his as a member of society. It is deterrent as a means of forestalling similar wrongdoing by others.

Some theorists hold, with Plato, that no one does wrong voluntarily. On these premises, punishment may never be retributive but only corrective or deterrent. Christianity, however, believes that because human beings are free they are responsible for their misdeeds and therefore liable to punishment that gives them their just deserts. It is therefore moral to punish the guilty even if there is no hope of correcting that person or deterring others from crime. (Etym. Latin poena, punishment, penalty, pain.)