Pope Francis has sent a letter to the participants of an international conference on criminal law, encouraging them to consider a fuller understanding of justice that moves beyond mere punishment.
“It seems to me that the big challenge that we must all face is that the measures taken against evil do not stop with suppression, discouragement and isolation for those who caused it, but help them to reconsider, to walk in the paths of good, to be genuine people far from their miseries, becoming merciful themselves,” he said in a letter to the participants of the 19th International Conference of the International Association of Penal Law and the 3rd Congress of the Latin American Association of Penal Law and Criminology.
“Therefore, the Church recommends a justice that is humanizing, genuinely reconciling, a justice that leads the offenders, through an educational way and through inspiring penance, to complete their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.”
The letter, written in Spanish and dated May 30, focused on the three “steady elements” in the understanding of justice after sin: satisfaction or reparation for damage; confession; and contrition.
The Pope pointed to the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of satisfaction which focused on “justice for the victim” rather than “executing the aggressor.”
“In our society we tend to think that crimes are solved when the offender is captured and sentenced,” he noted, “without sufficient attention to the situation the victims are in.”
“But it would be a mistake to identify reparation only with punishment, to confuse justice with revenge, which only helps to increase violence, even if it is institutionalized,” he warned.
Instead, “we must move forward and do everything possible to correct, improve, and educate the person to mature in all aspects.”
Criminals must be helped to “recognize and regret” their faults with an attitude of confession, he explained, since it is not infrequent that “crime is rooted in economic and social inequalities, networks of corruption and organized crime (who are) seeking accomplices amongst the most powerful and victims among the most vulnerable.”
Pope Francis insisted that it is not enough to have just laws, but “responsible and capable people to implement them.”
Criminal law “requires a multidisciplinary approach” aimed at helping individuals to be “fully human, free, conscious, and responsible,” he stressed. We must also remember that “we are all sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness.”
The pontiff also referenced the parable of the Good Shepherd, the Prodigal Son, and the story of Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman as examples of God’s generous forgiveness.
“God welcomes us and offers us another chance, if we open ourselves to the truth of penance and allow ourselves to be transformed by His mercy,” he reminded the recipients of his letter.
“Forgiveness, in fact, does not remove or diminish the requirement of rectification, proper justice, or dispenses with the need for personal conversion, but goes further, seeking to restore relationships and reintegrate people into society.”
Pope Francis concluded his missive with an appeal to take the necessary steps to create “an inclusive society” where unnecessary suffering may be avoided “especially among the most vulnerable.”