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Private Audience with Pope Francis

His Holiness Pope Francis received in private audience on October 23, 2014, the Executives of the International Association of Penal Law (IAPL) as well as of the other four main Associations active in the fiield of criminal law. He gave in this occasion a strong speach against the death penalty -to which he associated life imprisonment- and described corruption as a "a greater ill than sin"  that  should not be forgiven, but "treated". 

On the occasion of the XIXth Congress of the International Association of Penal Law (IAPL), which was held from August 30 to September 7, 2014, His Holiness Pope Francis had addressed the Congress in a message recalling that "true justice is not satisfied by simply punishing criminals" and invited the executives of the Association in a private audience to take place in his Vatican residence on October 23, 2014. 

The Association had invited the other associations active in the area of international criminal law to join the ceremony. Representatives of the International Society of Criminology, of the International Society of Victimology, of the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation, the International Society of Social Defence, as well as the Latin-American of Criminal Law and Criminology participated in this private audience.

The President of the International Association of Penal Law, Professor John Vervaele, presented to the Pope the activities of the International Association of Penal Law, which promotes since 1924 the strengthening of human rights in criminal justice and the establishment of an international criminal justice. The missions of the Association are to propose the foundations of a criminal justice respecting a necessary balance between protection of citizens against impunity and violence, and the respect of rights and liberties of those suspected, but also the establishment of an international criminal justice. He recalled in this respect the message of his Holiness Pope Pius XII to the IAPL on the occasion of its 1953 Congress, a few years after Second World War, calling for the creation of an international criminal justice system aimed at protecting individuals and peoples against injustice and fundamental rights violations, and preventing impunity in crime against humanity cases.

Pope Francis, in a very strong speech of around thirty minutes, denounced "penal populism" and called lawyers to fight against "vengeful trend which permeates society" under the pressure of "mass media and of certain unscrupulous politicians". 

He showed puzzlement that States "fail to employ a means other than capital punishment to protect the lives of other people from the unjust aggressor" adn recalled that the Church condemned in several occasions capital punishment as well as life imprisonment "which is just a death penalty in disguise".

In the light of his personal experience of dictatorship in Latin America, he stood up against extra-judicial or extra-legal executions committed by public officials who "take refuge in the shadow of State prerogatives". Moreover, he condemned imprisonment without judgment or inhuman or degrading punishments, implicitly referring to practices in the United States in the war against terror after September 11th, but also of all States which "authorized the use of their air space for illegal transportation toward detention centres where torture takes place". 

By receiving the Executive of the International Association of Penal Law, Pope Francis wished to recall his commitment to fondamental principles of human rights in criminal justice, but also his courageous crusade against organized crime, and in particular against the Italian mafia, whose chiefs he excommunicated.

Although this prestigious Assocation is apolitical and areligious, a number of popes have in the past supported its efforts, and in particular Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI, the latter having recalled, in a speech delivered in 1969 on the occasion of the Xth Congress of the Association, that "there is no peace without justice" and referred to the words of Prophet Isaiah "I will make peace your administrators and righteousness your overseers" (Isaiah, 60,17).


TV report of the event

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