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The latest Pope has been the most liberal leader the Vatican has ever seen. Not only has he advocated a dramatic shift in attitudes towards homosexuality – leading Elton John to call him “my hero” – he has also declared that the Big Bang Theory and evolution are most likely accurate scientific theories. These are certainly very different from the previous views the Vatican has expressed.
Alongside these radical views, Pope Francis continues to live up to his reputation as a well-educated, contemporary thinker; he recently made comments claiming that execution, rendition and life sentences were incredibly inhumane and unnecessary. He also pointed out that the Vatican were leading by example, as capital punishment has not been part of their penal code since 1969.
His reasoning for his statement was that the “principle dignity of each human being must prevail over everything.” This is especially relevant in terms of the extradition of prisoners to countries where they are often subjected to torture to extract information and confession from them. This is a very clear breach of human rights; using violence and intimidation to enforce the law seems medieval in countries such as the USA, which is meant to be civilised and forward thinking. Using torture centres as a form of ‘justice’ doesn’t seem to suggest either of those things.
He also pointed out the unnecessary application of execution. The media often perpetuates a revenge culture in which “sacrificial victims” are offered up as a way to exemplify the disgraces of society, or as a way to exalt a particular case. Surely in modern societies, this isn’t the only way to prevent crime and keep the public safe. America still has many states where the death penalty is legal, but their rates of crime have not dropped significantly enough to be able to say that capital punishment is a “deterrent”.
Even in places where capital punishment is not implemented, extra-judicial execution can often take place. This entails killing by the state, military, or police without any trial as the aggressor is seen as a ‘danger’ or ‘threat’ at the immediate time. This in itself is a gross miscarriage of justice, as the law operates a system which demands that the accused is given a fair trial. To not do so is to bypass the law and a person’s human rights.
However, the most controversial of the Pope’s arguments was his declaration that life sentences should be abolished altogether. In his view, life imprisonment is a “death sentence in disguise”. Understandably, this has been met with some considerable outrage as life sentences are usually reserved for the most atrocious of crimes. Although the death penalty may be the wrong way to promote justice, life imprisonment does seem fair for someone who has taken a life or some other heinous crime.
Pope Francis elaborated on his discussion about the inhumanity of the justice system, concluding that “corruption is an evil greater than sin” when it comes to government and state. He believes that any country in which trafficking and exploitation is rife needs to look to its own systems. Surely a competent government wouldn’t allow such miscarriages of justice to take place right under their nose? The Pope believes that there is a subconscious compliance between the perpetrators of such crimes and the state. This may be an extreme view, but he does have his points. Many countries, in Asia particularly, seem to simply overlook the human exploitation that goes on right under their noses. Sex trafficking is rife in places such as Thailand, and the governments seem to do little about it. As human beings, it is our duty to limit the capacity evil has to commit offences such as these.
Overall, the Pope makes some well rounded points. He promotes tolerance and humanity, instead of violence and revenge. And although this has been criticised by some as a ‘rebranding exercise’ for Catholicism, surely spreading a message which reinforces the idea of a humane approach does more good than harm. If anything, this move by the Vatican shows a far more advanced, liberal attitude towards justice than many ‘first world’ countries. Leading by Pope Francis’s example, I think we should all feel a sense of responsibility towards the denouncement of these cruel and outdated practises.