Once again wading into political territory, Pope Francis has called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty, saying the commandment "You shall not kill" applies to both the guilty and the innocent.
According to a report from Reuters, the pontiff urged Catholic politicians worldwide to make "a courageous and exemplary gesture" by seeking a one-year moratorium on executions during the Church's current Holy Year, which ends in November.
"I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty," he told tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square on Sunday.
"The commandment 'You shall not kill,' has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty," he told the crowd, referring to the Biblical commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:4-21.
The pope added that there was now "a growing opposition to the death penalty even for the legitimate defense of society" as it is possible today to "efficiently repress crime without definitively denying the person who committed it the possibility of rehabilitating themselves."
Francis, who joins predecessors Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II in speaking out against the death penalty, made his comments in support of an international conference against the death penalty starting Monday in Rome and organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, a worldwide Catholic peace and justice group.
Speaking on Sunday, the pope also called for better prison conditions, stating, "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."
In contrast with church leaders' stance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the death penalty is acceptable if it is "the only possible way of effectively defending human lives," and roughly half of U.S. Catholics (53%) - including a majority of white Catholics (63%) - also favor the death penalty.
In 2014, Francis denounced what he called a "penal populism" that promises to solve society's problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.
"It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples' lives from an unjust aggressor," the pope said in a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law.
"All Christians and people of goodwill are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment," he said. "Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty."