The Bishops’ Conference of Chile has sent a request to the country’s president asking for the pardon of some prisoners as Chile celebrates the bicentennial of its independence.
In a statement signed by Bishop Alejandro Goic, president of the conference, the bishops said their request was rooted in “a religious tradition, with biblical foundations that even precede Christianity, of invoking gestures of clemency on the occasion of great celebrations.”
The bishops said their appeal was not meant to contradict the rules of law and justice, but instead to suggest that clemency be considered in some cases. While they recognized the request has been met with differing reactions, the bishops stressed that the proposal “is not intended to reopen the serious wounds of the past nor to claim that they can be healed by the decree.”
“We are simply presenting to the country’s leaders the painful reality experienced by many persons deprived of freedom who have been convicted and have completed most of their sentences,” they said. “It is for them that we request, in this bicentennial, a gesture of clemency, as we have done in the past with other situations of great human suffering.”
The bishops said female prisoners with children, elderly prisoners, and terminally ill prisoners, should be among those considered in their request, with some having their sentences reduced, and others being freed if they no longer constitute a danger to society and have shown good behavior in prison.
The Chilean bishops also said clemency should be considered for some convicted of crimes during the Pinochet era. “Let us not forget that not all of them were equally responsible for the crimes that were committed. We do not believe there should be a blanket pardon or a complete rejection of the pardon for every convicted former military officer. There must be a distinction between the degree of responsibility of each person, the degree of freedom with which he or she acted, the gestures of humanity he or she showed, and the repentance that person has demonstrated for his or her crimes.”