Is Punishment Only About Rehabilitation? by John M. Grondelski

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*Image: Christ and the Good Thief by Titian, c. 1566 [National Art Gallery of Bologna, Italy]

By John M. Grondelski, The Catholic Thing, March 1, 2023

John Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views herein are exclusively his.

A minor tempest has arisen in the Catholic blogosphere over the question of the reason for punishing criminals.  Pope Francis, who has already rewritten the Catechism to claim that capital punishment is “inadmissible,” appears also to think that life sentences for criminals might also “violate human dignity.” Papal apologists have taken to arguing that a “just” society is one that incarcerates criminals until they are reformed, and then sends them forth, rejoicing.

After three decades during which such arguments have been generally practiced in most developed countries, the results are in.

Quite bluntly put, not only do such policies fail to protect society. There is nothing in the Catholic understanding of crime that sees punishment as only or at least primarily applicable until the criminal claims to be rehabilitated or demonstrates some ill-defined “evidence” of such.  Those who claim otherwise seem to be reading modern categories and assumptions, including a stark individualism, into the Catholic tradition. …

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