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Pope reflects on criminals’ satisfaction, confession, and contrition

Catholic World News - June 09, 2014

In a letter to participants in conferences sponsored by the International Association of Penal Law and the Latin American Association of Penal Law and Criminology, Pope Francis reflected on satisfaction, confession, and contrition, “in fidelity to Christ, who came ‘to proclaim liberty to the captives’” (Lk. 4:18).

Referring to the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Pope wrote that satisfaction has more to do with assisting the victim than executing the aggressor. “It would be an error to identify reparation only with punishment, to confuse justice with vengeance.”

In the letter, which was dated May 30 and released June 7, the Pope said that stiffer sentences have led to overcrowded prisons and “prisoners detained without trial,” and not to a decrease of crime rates. The Pope also urged journalists not to sensationalize their coverage of crime, creating panic or inducing victims to relive their suffering.

Turning to confession, Pope Francis recalled the good thief and said that “true justice is not content simply to punish the guilty.” Emphasizing that all are sinners, the Pope said that criminals should be helped to “face the damage” they have done and amend their lives without being “crushed by the weight of their miseries.” The existence of corruption and organized crime, which tempt many people to evil, shows that just laws are not enough: responsible persons are needed to implement them.

Contrition, the Pope said, is the “gateway to repentance.” Recalling several examples of God’s mercy in the Gospels, the Pope said that forgiveness does not lessen the need for making amends, justice, or personal conversion; instead, it goes further, “seeking to restore relationships and reintegrate people in society.” The Church thus desires a reconciling justice that leads the offender, through education and penance, to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the community.

Pope Francis concluded by recalling that Christ identified himself with all prisoners, whether guilty or innocent, and that he “came to announce the Good News of salvation and conversion.”

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  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jun. 09, 2014 10:41 AM ET USA

    We shouldn't misread what Francis says here. He is not saying to forget punishment for crimes, but that punishment be only part of policy. Punishment, even capital punishment, has been endorsed by Catholic teaching for a long time. I think it would be helpful if our prelates delineated with some precision practical notions for state administration of condign punishment, including the death penalty. To date they have failed to do so.

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