Francis appeals to Catholic governors: Stop executions in Jubilee Year

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has again strongly called for the global abolition of the death penalty, making a special appeal to Catholics in positions of power in criminal cases to stop executions at least for the duration of the Jubilee year of mercy.

In his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter's Square Sunday, the pontiff said that the commandment "You shall not kill" has "absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty."

Francis said that modern means exist to "efficiently repress crime without definitively denying the person who committed it the possibility of rehabilitating themselves."

"The extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is a good occasion to promote in the world always more mature forms of the respect of life and the dignity of every person," said the pope. "Even the criminal the inviolable right to life, [a] gift of God."

"I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty," said the pontiff. "And I propose to those who are Catholics to make a courageous gesture of example: that no one condemned be executed in this Holy Year of Mercy."

"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," said Francis.

The pontiff was speaking Sunday in a reflection on the Gospel reading of the day, which focused on the story of the transfiguration of Christ.

While Catholic church teaching does not forbid use of the death penalty, it says it should not be used unless there is no other way to protect society from a violent criminal. Recent popes have pushed for its abolition, saying most, if not all, societies can effectively hold prisoners without fear for wider society.

Francis has pushed for the abolition of the penalty many times. He made his call Sunday in the context of a conference being hosted in Rome Monday by the Sant'Egidio Community, which is bringing justice ministers from around the world to speak about death penalty abolition.

The pope's call for Catholics in positions of power to suspend executions in the Jubilee year of mercy could have particular implications in the U.S., where more than a dozen state governors are Catholic.

In past months Francis has appealed to several state governors directly to make pleas to stop scheduled executions.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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