Protection of the environment by criminal law
It is true that the criminal response comes when the crime has been committed, that it does not repair damage or prevent repetition, and that it rarely has dissuasive effects. It is also true that, because of its structural selectivity, the sanctioning function usually affects the most vulnerable sectors. I am also aware that there is a punitivist current that claims to resolve the most varied social problems through the penal system.
Instead, an elementary sense of justice would require that certain conduct, for which corporations are usually responsible, does not go unpunished. In particular, all those that can be considered as “ecocide”: the massive contamination of air, land and water resources, the large-scale destruction of flora and fauna, and any action capable of producing an ecological disaster or destroying an ecosystem. We must introduce – we are thinking about it – in the Catechism of the Catholic Church the sin against ecology, the ecological sin against the common home, because it is a duty.
In this sense, recently, the Synod Fathers for the Pan-Amazon Region proposed to define ecological sin as action or omission against God, against one’s neighbour, the community and the environment. It is a sin against future generations and is manifested in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment, in transgressions against the principles of interdependence and in the breaking of networks of solidarity between creatures (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 340-344).
As has been pointed out in your work, “ecocide” is to be understood as the loss, damage or destruction of the ecosystems of a given territory, so that its utilization by inhabitants has been or can be seen as severely compromised. This is a fifth category of crimes against peace, which should be recognised as such by the international community.
On this occasion, and through you, I would like to appeal to all the leaders and actors in this area to contribute their efforts to ensuring adequate legal protection for our common home.
Excerpt from the Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Participants at the World Congress of the International Association of Penal Law