.- Cardinal George Pell addressed, this Sunday, the international debate that emerged after Saddam Hussein’s hanging regarding whether the former dictator should have been executed or sentenced to life in prison.
The cardinal-archbishop of Sydney said that while Hussein’s execution “was not entirely right and proper,” he said, “our sympathy should be directed first to his many victims. Unlike most of them, he has a marked grave in his home city, even if his coffin arrived on the back of a utility.”
He acknowledged that slightly more Australians (47 per cent) supported life imprisonment for Hussein rather than execution. He also noted the Church’s teaching, which has developed into an explicit opposition to all capital punishment. But he concluded that he could not weep for the death of Hussein; rather, he weeps for the dictator’s victims.
“I do not believe he was the worst tyrant of the second half of the 20th century, with competitors like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, but he is in the front rank of evildoers,” he said in his regular column in the Sunday Telegraph.
Still, he noted, “One million people died in his war with Iran; he invaded Kuwait; systematically oppressed and killed the Kurds; murdered many of his own Iraqis and even enticed his sons-in-law home with false promises and had them executed within three days.”
The cardinal also argued for the validity and legality of Hussein’s trial.
The Purpose of Punishment
Turning to the penal system in general, the Cardinal noted that, “The punishment of criminals is a vexed issue, and we should strive to avoid two extremes.”
“Generally, public opinion is strong for justice, although some want only vengeance – ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’” Pell noted. “The other extreme rejects this and sees imprisonment primarily as an attempt to rehabilitate the criminal.”
“The traditional Christian teaching is a bit more complicated. Those who believe in God the Creator accept that serious evil disturbs and distorts nature's proper order. Punishment is designed to redress this disorder and when the offender voluntarily accepts his punishment this enhances the return to equilibrium. Punishment should be medicinal, contributing to the personal reform of the offender,” the Cardinal concluded.