Speaking from Vatican City on Sunday, Pope Francis called to end the death penalty worldwide. NBC News reports the pontiff explained the commandment "You shall not kill" was absolute and equally valid for the guilty as for the innocent.
"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.
Francis issued a plea to Catholic politicians all over the world to make "a courageous and exemplary gesture" by seeking a moratorium on executions during the Church's current Holy Year, which ends in November.
He said, "All Christians and men of goodwill 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," NBC News reports. In the past, the pope also denounced life imprisonment, calling it "a hidden death penalty" and saying that more should be done to try to rehabilitate even the most hardened of criminals.
The Pope's statements support the international conference against the death penalty that will start Monday in Rome, organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, a worldwide Catholic peace and justice group.
The 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church allowed the death penalty in extreme cases for centuries, but the position began to change under the late Pope John Paul, who died in 2005.
China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the U.S.A. carried out the overwhelming majority (88%) of known executions last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.