The shackled feet of a bombing suspect in Bangkok, Thailand, are seen as he is escorted by officers and prison personnel to Military Court Feb. 16. Pope Francis asks world leaders for a Jubilee Year moratorium on the death penalty. (CNS photo/Diego Azubel, EPA)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called for a moratorium on executions during the Year of Mercy and said the fifth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," applies not only to the innocent but to the guilty as well.
"Even a criminal has the inviolable right to life, a gift of God," he said Feb. 21 after reciting the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.
Marking the beginning of an international conference "For a world without the death penalty," sponsored by the Community of Sant'Egidio, the pope expressed hope that it will strengthen efforts to abolish the death penalty.
Increasing opposition worldwide to the death penalty as "an instrument of legitimate social defense" is "a sign of hope," he said.
"This issue has to be considered within the perspective of a penal justice, which is more and more in compliance with human dignity and God's plan for humanity and society," the pope said.
The pope appealed to world leaders to reach an international consensus on the abolition of the death penalty. He also proposed Catholic government leaders "make a courageous and exemplary gesture by seeking a moratorium on executions during this Holy Year of Mercy."
"All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve the conditions of life in prison, in the respect of human dignity of people deprived of freedom," he said.