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IX.1. Christians are called to be law-abiding citizens of their homeland on earth, accepting that every soul should be “subject to the higher powers” (Rom. 13:1), and at the same time remembering the commandment of Christ to render “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Lk. 20:25). Human sinfulness, however, generates crime, which is a violation of the limits established by law. At the same time, the conception of sin established by Orthodox moral norms is broader than the concept of crime expressed in secular law.

The primary cause of crime is the darkened state of the human heart: “for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19). It should be also admitted that sometimes crime is provoked by economic and social conditions, as well as by weak government and the absence of lawful order. Criminal groups may penetrate public institutions and use them for their own purposes. Finally, the leadership itself may become criminal by committing illegal actions. Especially dangerous is crime disguised under political and pseudo-religious motives, such as terrorism and the like.

To keep crime in check, the state establishes law-enforcement bodies. Their aim is to prevent and investigate crimes and to punish and reform criminals. However, the task of eradicating crime and reforming those who took a false step should be undertaken not only by the state, but by all the people, and this means by the Church, too.
IX.2. The prevention of crime is possible first of all through education and enlightenment aimed at proclaiming authentic spiritual and moral values in society. In this task the Orthodox Church is called to intensive cooperation with school, mass media and law-enforcement bodies. If the people lack a positive moral ideal, no measure of coercion, deterrence or punishment will be able to stop the evil will. That is why the best form of preventing crime is the preaching of the honest and proper way of life, especially among children and youth. In this effort, close attention should be given to the so-called ‘at-risk’ groups and those who have already committed first offences. These people need special pastoral and educational care. Orthodox clergy and laity are called to take part in the efforts to overcome the social causes of crime, showing concern for the just order in society and economy and for the self-fulfillment of every member of society in his profession and life.

At the same time, the Church insists on the need for humane attitude towards suspects, persons under investigation and those caught in criminal activities. The crude and improper treatment of these people can encourage them to follow the wrong track or even push them onto it. For this reason, those awaiting a verdict should not be disfranchised even in custody. They should be guaranteed a defense lawyer and impartial justice. The Church condemns torture and indignities towards persons under investigation. The priest, even when desiring to assist law-enforcement, cannot violate the secrecy of Confession and other secrecy safeguarded by law (for instance, the secrecy of adoption). When pastors are caring for those who went astray and were convicted, upon learning anything that was concealed from investigation and justice, they shall be guided by the secrecy of Confession.

The norm providing for the secrecy of Confession is included in the legislation of many states today, including the Constitution of the Russian Federation and Russia’s Law on the Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations.

The priest is called to show special pastoral sensitivity in cases of a Confession revealing a criminal intention. While keeping sacred the secrecy of Confession without any exceptions and in every circumstance, the pastor is obliged to make all possible efforts to prevent a criminal intention from being realized. This is particularly true if it concerns threats of homicide, especially possible massacre in acts of terrorism or in the execution of a criminal order during war. Remembering that the souls of a potential criminal and his intended victim have equal value, the priest should call the penitent to make genuine repentance, that is, to abandon his evil intention. If this call is not effective, the pastor, while keeping secret the penitent’s name and other information that can help identify him, may give a warning to those whose life is threatened. In difficult cases, the priest should appeal to the diocesan bishop.
IX.3. Any crime committed and condemned by law presupposes a fair punishment. Its meaning is to reform a transgressor, to protect society from a criminal and to stop his illegal activity. The Church, without taking upon herself to judge a transgressor, is called to take care of his soul. That is why she understands punishment not as revenge, but a means of the inner purification of a sinner.

Establishing punishment for culprits, the Creator says to Israel: “You shall put evil away from among you” (Deut. 21:21). Punishment for crime serves to teach people. Thus, establishing punishment for false prophesy, God says to Moses: “All Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall no longer do such wickedness as this among you” (Dent. 13:11). We read in the Proverbs of Solomon: “Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one who has understanding, and he will understand knowledge’(Prov. 19:25). The Old Testament tradition knows of several forms of punishment, including the death penalty, banishment, restriction of freedom, corporal punishment, and fine or directive to make a donation for religious purposes.

Confinement, banishment (exile), reformatory labor and fines continue as punishments in the contemporary world. All these penalties are relevant not only in protecting society from the evil will of a criminal, but are also called to help in reforming him. Thus, confinement or restriction of freedom gives to a person who has made himself a criminal, an opportunity to reflect on his life in order to come back to liberty internally purified. Labor helps educate a person for creativity and helps him to acquire useful skills. In the process of reformatory labor, the sinful element deep in the soul should give place to creative endeavor, order and spiritual peace. It is important at the same time to ensure that inmates are not subjected to inhumane treatment, that the conditions of confinement do not threaten their life and health and that their moral condition is not influenced by the pernicious example of other inmates. To this end the state is called to take care of convicts, while society and the Church are called to help them in it.

In Christianity, kindness towards prisoners for the sake of their reformation has deep roots. The Lord Jesus compares charity towards prisoners to the service of Himself- “I was in prison, and you came to me” (Mt. 25:36). History remembers many men of God who helped those in prisons. The Russian Orthodox tradition has encouraged charity toward those fallen since olden times. St. Innocent, Archbishop of Kherson, addressed these words to inmates in a prison church in Vologda: “We have come here not to condemn you, but to give you consolation and edification. You can see for yourselves how the Holy Church has come to you with all her Sacraments. So you, too, do not move away from Her, but approach Her with faith, repentance and your ways reformed... The Savior is even now holding out his hands from the cross to all the repentant; so you, too, repent and you will come from death to life!”

In her ministry in penitentiaries, the Church should set up churches and prayer rooms, celebrate and administer the Sacraments, hold pastoral talks with inmates, and distribute religious literature. Especially important is the personal contact with inmates, including visiting them in their cells. Every encouragement should be given to correspondence with convicts, and collection and distribution of clothes, medicines and other necessities. These efforts should be aimed not only to relieve the heavy lot of prisoners, but also to help in the moral healing of their crippled souls. Their pain is the pain of the whole Mother Church who rejoices with heavenly joy when even “one sinner repents” (Lk. 15:10). The revival of the care for prisoners has become an important field of pastoral and missionary work, which needs to be supported and developed.

The death penalty as a special punishment was recognized in the Old Testament. There are no indications of the need to abolish it in the New Testament or in the Tradition or in the historical legacy of the Orthodox Church either. At the same time, the Church has often assumed the duty of interceding before the secular authority for those condemned to death, asking it show mercy for them and commute their punishment. Moreover, under Christian moral influence, a negative attitude to the death penalty has been cultivated in people’s consciousness. Thus, in the period from the mid- I 8th century to the 1905 Revolution in Russia, it was applied on very rare occasions. For the Orthodox Church’s consciousness, the life of a person does not end with his bodily death, therefore the Church continues Her care for those condemned to capital punishment.

The abolition of the death penalty would give more opportunities for pastoral work with those who -have stumbled and for the latter to repent. It is also evident that punishment by death cannot be reformatory; it also makes irreparable misjudgments and provokes ambivalent feelings among the people. Today many countries have either abolished the death penalty by law or stopped practicing it. Keeping in mind that mercy toward a fallen man is always more preferable than revenge, the Church welcomes these steps by state authorities. At the same time, she believes that the decision to abolish or not to apply the death penalty should be made by society freely, considering the rate of crime and the state of law-enforcement and judiciary, and even more so, the need to protect the lives of its well-intentioned members.
IX.4. Seeking to help overcome crime, the Church enters into cooperation with law-enforcement agencies. Respecting the efforts of their workers, aimed at protecting the citizens and the country from criminal designs and to reform those who have stumbled, the Church lends them a helping hand. This assistance may be realized in various joint educational efforts for preventing offences, in scientific and cultural work, and in the pastoral care of the law-enforcers themselves. Cooperation between the Church and law- enforcement is based on the church statutes and special agreements concluded with the leadership of law-enforcement agencies.

However, it is the pastoral care of the Church, given especially in the Sacrament of Repentance, that is called to be the most effective means in overcoming crime. To any person repenting of an offence, the priest should absolutely insist, as an indispensable condition for the absolution from his sin, that the penitent abandon before the Face of God any attempt to continue his criminal activity. Only in this way will a person be compelled to abandon the way of lawlessness and to return to the life of virtue.
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