Pope Francis began a campaign on Thursday calling for the abolition of capital punishment around the globe, even as one of his leading representatives in the Church is defending an Italian law that legalizes abortion.
The pope’s call to end the death penalty follows Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia’s defense of the Italian law protecting access to abortion as an “untouchable pillar of society.” Paglia is also president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Paglia said last week during an interview with an Italian television reporter that the 1978 law in that country legalizing abortion is so established as a “pillar” that it should not even be debated. When asked directly if the law should be contested at all, Paglia said, “No, absolutely not.”
In direct contradiction to Paglia, Francis said on Thursday that the death penalty is “morally inadmissible, for it destroys the most important gift we have received: life.” He said that it does not give victims of crime any justice and “encourages revenge.”
He called on all people around the world to “mobilize for the abolition” of capital punishment in every place where it is still legally permitted.
Francis kicked off the month-long effort to end the death penalty with a video message indicating that the Church prays that capital punishment will be legally abolished everywhere, as it “attacks the dignity of the human person.”
The pope said that the “growing ‘NO’ to the death penalty around the world” is a sign of hope. He went on to say that the death penalty is not a legal necessity because society has ways to “effectively repress crime without definitively depriving the offenders of the possibility of redeeming themselves.”
Francis and Paglia are appearing to break further from the unbroken teaching of the Catholic Church that abortion is among the most serious mortal sins. In comparison, the Vatican did not abolish the death penalty inside its sovereign border until 1969.
Until very recently, the Church has accepted the death penalty when imposed according to law and justice as a moral form of punishment for the most serious crimes. The death penalty was regularly imposed throughout the Church’s history by popes in the Papal States.