Pope Francis has urged Catholic leaders to show "exemplary" courage by not allowing executions this year, while expressing hope that eventually the death penalty will be abolished worldwide. Francis told tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on Sunday that "the commandment 'do not kill' holds absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty." He added that there is "an ever more widespread opposition in public opinion to the death penalty, even only as an instrument of legitimate social defense."
"I appeal to the conscience of those who govern so that international consensus is reached for the abolishment of the death penalty," the pontiff said. "And I propose to all those among them who are Catholic to make a courageous and exemplary gesture: May no execution sentence be carried out in this Holy Year of Mercy." Francis is using the church's Holy Year, which runs through Nov. 20, to encourage efforts for more reconciliation and mercy in the world. "Even criminals hold the inviolable right to life" given by God, he said, calling on all Christians and all those of good will to work not only to abolish capital punishment but also to improve prison conditions. (Last week, Francis said artificial contraception could be OK for those affected by the Zika crisis.)