Ed Feser at The Catholic World Reports that the Pope is against the death penalty, life sentences and lengthy sentences:
In a March 20, 2015 letter, Pope Francis said:
Life imprisonment, as well as those sentences which, due to their duration, render it impossible for the condemned to plan a future in freedom, may be considered hidden death sentences, because with them the guilty party is not only deprived of his/her freedom, but insidiously deprived of hope. But, even though the criminal justice system may appropriate the guilty parties’ time, it must never take away their hope.
In an interview in November of 2016, the pope stated that “if a penalty doesn’t have hope, it’s not a Christian penalty, it’s not human” and that life imprisonment is a “sort of hidden death penalty.” In August of 2017, the pope compared life imprisonment to “torture.” And in a December 17, 2018 address, Pope Francis stated:
The Magisterium of the Church holds that life sentences, which take away the possibility of the moral and existential redemption of the person sentenced and in favour of the community, are a form of death penalty in disguise.
Let’s note several things about these remarks. First, again, the pope claims that life sentences are morally on a par with the death penalty, and suggests that to oppose the latter requires opposing the former as well. Second, he says that the way they are similar is that they both deprive the offender of “hope” and of the possibility of “redemption.” Third, he has raised this issue repeatedly and in formal addresses, and not merely in an off-the-cuff remark or two. Fourth, he has invoked “the Magisterium of the Church” when speaking on this issue, rather than presenting it as a mere personal opinion.
Fifth, and remarkably, the pope seems to object not only to life sentences, but to any sentences of an especially long duration. For in his March 20, 2015 letter he criticizes “life imprisonment, as well as those sentences which, due to their duration, render it impossible for the condemned to plan a future in freedom” (emphasis added). Pope Francis appears to be saying that it is wrong to inflict on any offender a sentence that is so long that it would prevent him from returning eventually to a normal life outside of prison.
Now, the implications of all this are quite remarkable, indeed shocking. Consider, to take just one out of innumerable possible examples, a serial murderer like Dennis Rader, who styled himself the BTK killer (for “Bind, Torture, Kill”). He is currently in prison for life for murdering ten people, including two children, in a manner as horrific as you might expect from his chosen nickname. If Pope Francis is right, then it is wrong to have put Rader in prison for life. Indeed, if Pope Francis is right, then Rader should not be in prison for any length of time that might prevent him from being able to “plan a future in freedom.” Rader is 74 years old, so that would imply that Rader should be let out fairly soon so that he can plan how to live out the few years remaining to him. And if the pope is right, the same thing is true of other aging serial killers. Perhaps the pope would put conditions on their release, such as realistic assurances that they are not likely to kill again. But his words certainly entail that it would be wrong to deny at least the possibility of parole to any of them, no matter how heinous or numerous their crimes.
But even this doesn’t really capture the enormity of what Pope Francis is saying. Consider the Nuremberg trials, at which many Nazi war criminals were sentenced to death or life imprisonment. Pope Francis’s view would imply that all of these sentences were unjust! Indeed, Pope Francis’s position seems to entail that, had Hitler survived the war, it would have been wrong to sentence him to more than about twenty years in prison! For Hitler was in his fifties when he died, so that if he had been sentenced to more than that, he could not “plan a future in freedom” – as a greengrocer or crossing guard, perhaps. Pope Francis’s views imply that the Nuremberg judges should have been at least open to the possibility of letting Hitler off with such a light sentence and letting him return to a normal life – despite being guilty of the Holocaust and of fomenting World War II! Perhaps Pope Francis would shrink from these implications of his views. One hopes so. But they are the implications of his views.
Now, are Catholics obligated to agree with Pope Francis that life sentences should be abolished? I would argue they are not obligated, and for the same reasons they are not obligated to agree with Pope Francis about capital punishment. For once again, the pope is either making a claim about doctrinal principle or he is merely making a prudential judgment, and once again, in neither case can Catholics be obligated to agree with him.
Go here to read the rest. The Pope cares not a fig about the safety of the law abiding or the punishment of the guilty. When the popes ceased being secular rulers, their pronouncements on civil society gradually became more utopian and divorced from reality. Pope Francis is merely the end product of a process that has been underway for over a century. Of course his stance has bupkis to do with Catholicism. Better a crazy Mikado than a Pope who is ever kind to the cruel and cruel to the kind.