Pope Francis has called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty, urging Catholic leaders not to allow executions during the Church’s Holy Year.
Speaking to tens of thousands of tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square the Pope said he is proposing Catholic politicians around the world should “make a courageous and exemplary gesture” and ensure that no convicted inmate is put to death in the year of mercy – which runs through until November.
He told the crowd: "I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty.
"The commandment "You shall not kill," has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.”
According to Amnesty International, who have campaigned to end executions since 1977, around 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. They add that 55 countries in 2014 are known to have sentenced at least 2,466 people to death – a 28 per cent increase on the previous year.
The pontiff added that there was now "a growing opposition to the death penalty even for the legitimate defence of society" because modern means existed to "efficiently repress crime without definitively denying the person who committed it the possibility of rehabilitating themselves."
Francis has reinforced earlier church teaching, especially by St. John Paul II, that there's no justification in modern society for capital punishment. The pope said "even criminals hold the inviolable right to life" given by God. He also called for improved prison conditions.
"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.
Additional reporting by agencies