Pope Francis on Sunday called for a worldwide ban on the death penalty, telling tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square after praying the Angelus, “The commandment ‘do not kill’ holds absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.” Even people convicted of crimes, he said, “maintain the inviolable right to life, the gift of God.”
Using some of his strongest language against capital punishment to date, the Holy Father appealed “to the consciences of government leaders” to join the “international consensus for the abolition of the death penalty.” He specifically asked Catholic leaders “to make a courageous and exemplary gesture: may no execution sentence be carried out in this Holy Year of Mercy.”
Pope Francis spoke on the eve of an international convention for the abolition of the death penalty starting today in Rome and organized by the Sant’Egidio Community, a worldwide Catholic peace and justice group. “I hope,” the pope said, “that this symposium can give a renewed impulse to efforts for the abolition of capital punishment.”
Increasing opposition worldwide to the death penalty, even as “an instrument of legitimate social defense,” is “a sign of hope,” Pope Francis said. Modern society has the means to “efficiently repress crime without definitively denying the person who committed it the possibility of rehabilitating themselves.” Abolishing the death penalty, he said, must be considered as part of the changing justice system, which is becoming more closely aligned with “human dignity and God’s plan for humanity and society.”
“All Christians and men of good will are called on to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve prison conditions so that they respect the human dignity of people who have been deprived of their freedom,” he said.