Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pope Francis: A Comprehensive Conceptualization of Justice

When Pope Francis visited the United States this fall, much was made of his social justice message regarding those in prison. His visit with inmates as well as his call for an end to the death penalty and life sentences captured the attention of many advocates of criminal justice reform. While the Pope did mention victims of human trafficking and poverty, it would be fair to note that many of his references relevant to crime victims were in the context of a secondary effect of greed or poverty.

Not so with his trip to Mexico. Even before leaving Rome, he issued a video statement to the Mexican people where he not only recognized victims of crime but called all people to fight organized crime, violence, and human trafficking. He responded to questions about the violence that plagues many Mexican people by recognizing the victimization this climate besets on some of its people:

"Violence, corruption, war, children who cannot go to school because their country is at war, trafficking, arms manufacturers who sell weapons so that the wars of the world can continue … this is more or less the climate that we live in the world, and you are experiencing a part of it, a part of this 'war', this part of suffering, of violence, of organized trafficking. If I come to you, it is to receive the best of you and to pray with you, so that the problems … that you know exist may be resolved, because the Mexico of violence, the Mexico of corruption, the Mexico of drug trafficking, the Mexico of the cartels, is not the Mexico that our Mother loves, and of course I do not wish to cover up any of that; on the contrary, I would urge you to fight, day by day, against corruption, against trafficking, against war, against disunity, against organized crime, against human trafficking".

Once on Mexican soil, he addressed Mexican politicians with more force than he did American legislators during his historic speech to Congress. Speaking to the Mexican political elite, he condemned corruption and noted that, "sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development…." But some have argued that his strongest words were reserved for the ecclesial leadership and bishops. The Associated Press reports that he demanded these societal leaders "provide their people with security, justice and courageous pastoral care to confront the drug-inspired violence and corruption that are wracking the country, delivering a tough-love message to Mexico's ruling classes…."

When we examine these two trips together, a form of symmetry emerges. Pope Francis understands that criminal justice reform and prisoner rights do not exist in the vacuum. They exist as part of a continuum. While it is necessary to remember and act on the rights of those imprisoned, it is not sufficient. Rather, we must act to end the criminal victimization and violence by also holding responsible those who are engaged in and profit from this exploitation. His rebuke of corruption is an important rebuke of enabling or ignoring criminal activity which exploits and victimizes the innocent.

The road to criminal justice reform does not begin at the jailhouse or prison or even the police department. It begins with the protecting people from crime.


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