If I understand the matter of Purgatory correctly, it is as stated in this Catholic Encyclopedia of Theology which speaks of ‘believing humanity, characterized by finality of decision’ – which surely applies to that man, who showed repentance and expressed belief in Jesus as his saviour, just hours before his death:
“…those dead who, as part of the world – like the Church itself – can only attain their complete fulfilment gradually and in the midst of distress and affliction, because of their condition, which is marked by the concupiscence resulting from sin.” (article on ‘Purgatory’ by Elmar Klinger p.1318 – Ed. by Karl Rahner)
Now, hours before that man died, Jesus assured him that he would be with him in Paradise. This is recorded by the apostle Luke:
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise’.” (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)
I have deliberately avoided placing any comma in that last quoted sentence because there is no way this question should descend into an argument about whether Jesus meant the man would be with him in Paradise that day, or if Jesus was just saying, ‘I’m telling you today that you will be with me in Paradise.’ The question of whether Jesus could have said, ‘I tell you tomorrow…’ or, ‘I tell you yesterday…’ or, ‘I tell you in the future…’ could be saved for another question, another day.
My question is NOT about when the man would find himself in Paradise, but whether Jesus ought to have said he would find himself in Purgatory, if indeed such a place of gradual purifying via suffering and intercessionary prayers by the living was a fact. I mean, if anybody fitted the bill for dying at the last gasp, only professing saving faith in Christ after a sinful life, it was him.
So, why did Jesus say Paradise? No matter how Purgatory is defined, it cannot equate with Paradise to any degree, nor could Jesus say he would be in the same place. So, I’m hoping for a Catholic explanation of how Jesus’ promise to that man can be understood if belief in Purgatory is to be maintained.
EDIT- Accepted answer is based on Ken having given two answers, to give a Catholic explanation of how Catholics might deal with the difficulty, even though he admits that he does not believe in Purgatory. As he got 9 thumbs-up for this one, clearly more than a few consider this answer to be a good one, from a Catholic, which is what I was looking for. Like Ken, I don't believe in Purgatory either, but unlike him, I'm not prepared to suspend my disbelief in order to deal what is a real problem! Thanks to all who answered. I studied them all, and it's taken a while to choose.