Pope Francis has come out with a statement condemning many practices.
“All Christians and people of good will are called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty,” the pope told delegates from the International Association of Penal Law.
“And this I connect with life imprisonment,” he continued. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”
In the wide-ranging address, Francis denounced practices that are widespread in many regions of the world, such as extrajudicial executions and detentions without trial, which he said account for more than half of all detentions in some countries.
Francis also denounced corruption in penal systems, calling it “an evil greater than sin.”
The corrupt, he said, are like people with bad breath: They don’t realize they have it and must be told by others. Yet corruption has seeped into every corner of society, from business to public works contracts to national security operations. But the penal system operates like a net that “catches only the little fish while leaving the big fish free to swim the ocean.”
Those corrupt “big fish,” he said, are the ones who should be punished most severely because they damage all of society.
Francis also took aim at practices that have been hotly debated in the U.S, such as the so-called “extraordinary rendition” of terror suspects to other countries, which the pope described as the practice of “illegal transportation to detention centers in which torture is practiced.”
The pope called out both the nations that use such practices and those who allow it to happen on their territory or allow the use of their air space for other countries to transport detainees.
In addition, Francis said isolation in so-called “supermax” prisons, which are sometimes used for convicted terrorists or the most dangerous criminals, can be “a form of torture.” That’s because such treatment can lead to “psychic and physical sufferings such as paranoia, anxiety, depression and weight loss and a significantly increased chance of suicide.”
Countries that have the death penalty? Life imprisonment without the chance of parole? Detention without trial? Corruption in the national security apparatus? Justice systems systems that let the big fish get away and catch only the little ones? Extraordinary renditions? Torture? Supermax prisons?
While every country is guilty of having some of these things, surely no single country, especially one that calls itself civilized, could have all those horrible features, could it?
I wonder whether the pope had any country in mind when he made these comments.