Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Rome Wednesday, just a month ahead of the US elections and hot on the heels of a diplomatic breach with the Vatican, that experts see as an effort to win conservative Catholic votes.
Pompeo will not meet Pope Francis because the pontiff avoids such audiences in campaign periods, a Vatican source said.
Analysts say the pope has also been angered by Pompeo’s public calls for a historic Vatican-China accord to be scrapped.
Instead, Pompeo will speak at a symposium organised by the Holy See’s US embassy in the Italian capital on Wednesday, before meeting the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Thursday.
Francis has been working hard to repair ties with China, but his overtures run contrary to US President Donald Trump’s efforts to push a religious freedom theme against the Communist country in his campaign for a second term.
Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, went on the offensive earlier this month, calling a Sino-Vatican 2018 agreement on appointing bishops, which is up for renewal, a risk to the church’s “moral authority” given Beijing’s human rights record.
Powerful cardinal Oscar Maradiaga said the US intervention was unwelcome, and clearly linked to the election campaign.
“They’re looking for Donald Trump to get elected, and everything is based on that logic. In this sense, I don’t think they’re acting in the interests of Americans,” he said in an interview with the Repubblica daily on the eve of Pompeo’s visit.
Francis’s opening towards China had particularly angered the “anti-Francis” network close to the US president, he said, led by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s former envoy to the US, and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former advisor.
– ‘Propaganda’ –
Massimo Faggioli, a theologian at the Villanova Catholic University in the US, said there was a concerted effort under way to “turn a certain anti-Francis and anti-Vatican sentiment, which has become more visible in recent years, into votes for Trump”.
“Vatican diplomacy is being used for propaganda,” he said.
According to the Pew Research Centre, around half of Catholic registered voters describe themselves as Republicans or lean toward the Republican Party, while roughly the same identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party.
A “notable majority of white Catholics” voted for Trump last time, Faggioli said, and “the plan is to keep this bloc of white Catholic voters in some states where it is especially needed”.
Pompeo is also set Wednesday to meet Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio to discuss US efforts to deter European allies from using equipment by Chinese manufacturer Huawei in developing their 5G networks.
The US accuses Huawei of being a tool for Chinese espionage.
Italy insists its Golden Power law — which allows the government to impose conditions, restrictions or a ban on foreign investment in strategic industries — protects it from risk.
Nonetheless, Conte promised last week to take stronger measures to ensure national security in the country’s 5G networks.
Talks will likely also touch on Italy’s involvement in China’s ambitious “Belt and Road” trade and infrastructure investment plan.
Rome became the first G7 country to sign up to the plan last year, a move sharply criticised by those who fear the investment scheme will allow key trade secrets and technologies to slip into Beijing’s hands.
Pope Francis cancelled a scheduled appearance at mass in Rome on Thursday because of “a mild ailment”, the Vatican said, the day after he appeared to be suffering a cold.
“Due to a mild ailment, he preferred to stay in the vicinity of Saint Martha’s,” the guest house at the Vatican where the 83-year old pontiff lives, chief press officer Matteo Bruni said in a statement.
The mass in question was at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, one of Rome’s biggest and largest churches.
Bruni said the Argentine’s schedule remained otherwise unchanged.
The announcement came as Italy struggles to control the largest outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe with some 400 cases.
The Vatican made no reference to the disease in its announcement.
Francis has not curtailed any of his activities, which often include mingling with crowds and shaking hands.
The pontiff, who only has one lung and suffers problems with one hip, very rarely cancels an appointment in his busy schedule.
Vatican News said the pope had earlier Thursday celebrated the daily mass at Saint Martha’s House, before meeting members of a global Catholic climate movement as planned.
Pope Francis, who years ago hoped to be a missionary in Japan, travels to the sites of the world’s only atomic attacks this week seeking a ban on nuclear weapons.
The Argentine pontiff, 82, flies to Asia on Tuesday, where he will first visit Thailand and then Japan, including the two cities destroyed by devastating US nuclear attacks during the Second World War.
Despite both countries having less than 0.6 percent Catholic populations, Francis is thirsty for interreligious dialogue with them.
He will arrive in Thailand on Wednesday before flying on to Japan on Saturday, where he will stay until November 26.
Sunday is set to be a marathon day with visits to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where at least 74,000 people and 140,000 people respectively were killed by the atomic bombs attacks.
The August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki three days later contributed to Japan’s surrender and the end of the Second World War on August 15, months after Nazi Germany capitulated.
Father Yoshio Kajiyama, director of the Jesuit social centre in Tokyo, was born in Hiroshima shortly after the war and is eagerly awaiting the pope’s anti-nuclear speech.
“My grandfather died the day of the bomb in Hiroshima, I never knew him. Four days later my aunt died when she was 15 years old,” said the 64-year-old.
“If you grow up in Hiroshima, you can’t forget the bomb.”
No nukes message
The pope will make “as vigorous an appeal as possible in favour of concerted measures to completely eliminate nuclear weapons,” Vatican number two Cardinal Pietro Parolin told the United Nations in September.
“Using atomic energy to wage war is immoral,” the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics told Japanese television in September.
A previous member of Japan’s diplomatic mission to the Vatican, Shigeru Tokuyasu, said he hopes the visit will pull the world back from “the globalisation of indifference” over nuclear weapons.
But, said Tokuyasu, the pope should avoid discussing the politically sensitive issue of nuclear energy.
Francis is als to meet victims of the devastating 2011 earthquake that struck northeastern Japan and the subsequent tsunami that between them killed 18,500 people and sparked the nuclear power catastrophe at Fukushima.
Fear of nuclear war
Francis is used to railing against countries that make money from weapons and has already voiced his fear of a nuclear war.
In January last year, he printed cards with a photo of a Nagasaki bomb victim, inscribing the words “the fruit of war” above his signature.
The 1945 photo, captured by American photographer Joe O’Donnell, showed a small boy standing ramrod straight carrying his dead younger brother on his back while waiting for his turn at a cremation site.
The late pope John Paul II visited Japan in 1981, where at Hiroshima’s peace monument he pointed to war as “the work of man”.
In August, the city of Hiroshima called on Japan to sign the UN treaty calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, something that all the world’s nuclear powers have refused to do.
Japan, with its pacifist post-war constitution, adhered in 1967 to the principle of “not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory,” despite counting on the US nuclear umbrella for protection.
Before arriving in Thailand on Wednesday, the pope praised the “multiethnic nation” which “has worked to promote harmony and peaceful coexistence, not only among its habitants but throughout Southeast Asia.”
In a video message to the Thai people, the pope said he hoped to “strengthen ties of friendship” with Buddhists.
Since Francis’ election six years ago, he has made two trips to Asia, visiting the Philippines and Sri Lanka in 2014, followed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017.
On Thursday in Bangkok, the pontiff is to pay a visit to supreme patriarch Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong at a Buddhist temple.
Catholic nuns taking part in a three-week Vatican assembly on the Amazon have urged Pope Francis to allow them to vote on the final document Saturday.
A green light from Francis would be a historic first. The Vatican has not publicly responded to the request, but an expert said it would be unusual for voting rules to be changed once the assembly, or “synod”, was under way.
Only “synod fathers” — bishops, cardinals and specially-appointed male representatives — are allowed to vote on the final document, which brings together a list of recommendations submitted to the pope.
Francis will take those recommendations into consideration when he draws up his own document in the coming months.
There are 184 bishops or cardinals with voting rights taking part — nearly two-thirds of whom come from the Pan-Amazon region, which covers nine Latin American countries.
The meeting, which ends Sunday, has also been attended by non-voting observers, auditors and experts, including 35 women.
Ecuadorian nun Ines Azucena Zambrano Jara said Friday a letter had been sent to the pontiff.
She told journalists at a press briefing that the women took an active part in the synod, with some of them defining themselves as “synod mothers”.
Specialized site Religion Digital said the 35 women had signed a petition calling for the right to vote.
The synod fathers will vote later Saturday on each paragraph in the document.
Francis bent the rules at a previous synod in 2018, allowing two lay men to vote in their capacity as superiors general of their religious orders.
There have been calls for the pontiff to extend the right to female superiors general.
Exorcists advised a Nashville school priest to ban the Harry Potter books, over fears the popular children’s novels could be used to summon spirits.
Reverend Dan Reehil contacted exorcists in Rome and the US, who recommended removing the fantasy novels from St. Edward Catholic School’s library in Tennessee.
Launched in 1997, the series of books spins an epic tale of good and evil focused on the adventures of the eponymous bespectacled young wizard as he struggles against the dark wizard Lord Voldemort.
“The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text,” the reverend said in an email obtained by local media.
Rebecca Hammel, the superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, told the newspaper The Tennessean that Reehil had “canonical authority to make such decisions.”
Although the school used to stock the books, it will not offer them to pupils in its newly opened library, Hammel said.
A global success, the Potter series by British author J.K. Rowling has been repeatedly banned from schools in the US and Britain, mostly for allegedly promoting satanic values or black magic.
Disgraced Cardinal George Pell lost his appeal against child sex abuse convictions Wednesday, prompting relief from those who fought to bring one of the Catholic Church’s most powerful men to justice.
Once the Vatican’s third-ranking official, Pell had been trying to overturn the verdicts and six-year sentence for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.
The high-profile case pitted the powerful 78-year-old — who previously helped elect Popes, ran the Vatican’s finances and was involved in the church’s response to child sex abuse claims — against a single surviving former choirboy.
Pell, dressed in a dark suit, occasionally bowed his head as Chief Justice Anne Ferguson dismissed his arguments and described his victim as “very compelling” and someone who “was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth.”
The ruling prompted cheers to ripple into the courtroom from a large crowd gathered outside, and produced emotional statements from victims, their families and advocacy groups.
The now-adult victim — who cannot be named for legal reasons — said the “stressful” four-year legal fight had taken him “to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from.”
Dismissing vocal media critics, the man said the death of his friend, the second choirboy, from a drug overdose had prompted him to break his silence.
“After attending the funeral of my childhood friend… I felt a responsibility to come forward,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer.
“I am not an advocate. You wouldn’t know my name. I am not a champion for the cause of sexual abuse survivors.”
A lawyer for the father of the second victim said he felt “a weight had been lifted.”
“He feels that justice has been delivered today. He has a real sense of relief that George Pell is behind bars tonight,” Lisa Flynn told AFP.
Following the ruling, Pell — who will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months — maintained his innocence and said he was now considering a second and final appeal.
“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today,” said a statement issued through the church.
“His legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court.”
‘Done their job’
Pell’s lawyers now have 28 days to consider further legal steps.
They had raised 13 objections to his convictions, casting doubt on everything from the physical possibility of Pell removing his robes to carry out the act, to the credibility of the main witness.
The case was unusual in that it relied heavily on the closed-door testimony of the sole surviving victim.
The three judges unanimously dismissed two so-called “fallback” arguments for Pell related to alleged procedural errors during his trial.
His lawyers argued they should have been allowed to show an animated reconstruction of peoples’ movements in the cathedral on the days of the assaults.
They also took issue with the fact that Pell was not arraigned in the presence of the jury. The process was completed via video link so the large pool of potential jurors was able to watch.
Ferguson said that despite these complaints the judges “decided that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Cardinal Pell was guilty of the offence charged.”
Following Wednesday’s ruling Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed sympathy for the victims.
He said the “courts had done their job” and indicated Pell would be stripped of his Order of Australia honour.
During Pell’s trial under a court-ordered veil of secrecy, the Vatican gradually removed him from top Church bodies with little explanation.
Shortly after his conviction, Pell was removed from the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals that are effectively the Pope’s cabinet and inner circle of advisers.
The Vatican dropped him as the Church’s finance chief and opened its own probe into his actions after his conviction was made public in February.
Catholic priests in Poland burned books they say are sacrilegious this weekend, including tomes from British author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of fantasy novels.
“We obey the Word,” priests said in a Facebook post showing photographs of the public book burning and quoting Biblical passages from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.
One passage exhorting believers to destroy the enemies of God includes the command to “burn their idols in the fire”.
The post, on a page run by the Catholic “SMS from Heaven” evangelical group, stirred controversy and has gone viral.
Photographs show three priests carrying a basket of books and other items, including an African-styled face mask through a church to an outside fire pit.
Priests are seen saying prayers over the fire pit where other items, including a book from the Twilight vampire-themed fantasy romance series, a ‘Hello Kitty’ umbrella and a Hindu religious figurine, are also burning.
Father Jan Kucharski, the priest in the Gdansk parish where the book burning took place, told the natemat.pl news website on Monday that they had burned items “linked to the occult and magic.”
“Aside from the books, there were talismans and amulets. Parishioners brought them to put things in order” as part of spring cleaning, added the priest, who is also listed as an exorcist on the Gdansk diocese official website.
The burning took place in front of his church after Sunday mass.
Kucharczyk dismissed comparisons to the cultural censorship of totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany.
“We know what’s harmful to our faithful so that’s why we held an event like this. I’d even call it evangelical,” he told natemat.pl.
Contacted by AFP on Monday, the Polish Episcopate and Gdansk diocese acknowledged the incident but declined to comment.
Father Wojciech Parfianowicz, a spokesman from the Koszalin-Kolobrzeg diocese where the “SMS from Heaven” group is based, condemned the book burning as “inappropriate”.
But he told the Polish PAP news agency that the event risked “diverting attention from real spiritual dangers” posed by “the occult or magic”.
“I’d like to believe this is a joke… Seriously? Are people burning fantasy literature in the 21st century in some kind of sick ritual?!” one Facebook user said in a comment underneath the post.
“It’s hard for me to believe that we’re so backward!” the user added.
Other Facebook users, however, backed the book burning.
“Get rid of everything that does not please God and see how your life will change,” one person posted.
Child abuse scandal
Launched in 1997, the Harry Potter series of books spins an epic tale of good and evil focused on the adventures of the eponymous bespectacled young wizard as he struggles against the dark wizard Lord Voldemort.
It has sometimes drawn criticism from religious and conservative circles for what they say is its focus on witchcraft.
This latest incident comes as Poland’s influential Roman Catholic church struggles to deal with the fallout of revelations about paedophilia among priests that are unprecedented in this overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Last month, the Polish episcopate admitted for the first time that nearly 400 of its clergy had sexually abused children and minors over the past three decades.
That reflected findings published in February by a charity focused on sex abuse in the church.
A survey published in the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Monday suggested that 64 percent of Poles want a secular state, with 29 percent opposed and seven percent without an opinion.
The poll was carried out March 5-11 by Kantor Millward Brown on a random representative sample of 1,500 adult Poles.
Australian Cardinal George Pell, one of Pope Francis’ closest advisors, has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys, becoming the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex crimes.
An Australian jury unanimously found Pell guilty in December on one count of sexual abuse and four counts of indecent assault against two boys at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.
Pell, now aged 77, was accused of cornering the boys — then aged 12 and 13 — in the cathedral’s sacristy following Sunday mass and forcing them to perform a sex act on him.
The cleric, who has remained free on bail, denied all the charges and an initial trial ended with a hung jury in September, but he was convicted on retrial on December 11.
A wide-ranging suppression order from the presiding judge had prevented the media from reporting even the existence of court proceedings and the ensuing trials since May.
The order was lifted during a court hearing on Tuesday when prosecutors decided against proceeding with a second trial for separate allegations against Pell dating from the 1970s.
There was no immediate reaction from the Vatican but Pell maintained his innocence Tuesday.
“Cardinal George Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so,” said a statement issued by his lawyers, who added that they had lodged an appeal against the conviction.
The statement noted that numerous allegations and other charges against Pell had already been withdrawn or discharged.
‘Rot in hell’
Of the two choirboys that Pell was found to have assaulted, one died in 2014 of a drug overdose that his family blamed on the trauma he suffered.
The second victim said in a statement issued by his lawyer Tuesday that the ongoing legal process was stressful and “not over yet”.
“Like many survivors, I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression, and struggle,” said the man, who has not been publicly identified.
“At some point, we realize that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust.”
Outside the County Court of Victoria, supporters of other abuse survivors yelled “monster” and “rot in hell” as Pell, walking slowly with the aid of a cane, entered a car after the hearing concluded.
“It is a miracle. It is unbelievable,” one child sex abuse survivor who only gave his name as Michael told reporters outside the court, adding that he wanted to see the cleric excommunicated from the Church and sent to jail.
A pre-sentencing hearing is scheduled for Wednesday when Pell is expected to be remanded in custody. He faces a maximum 25 years in prison if his appeal is rejected, prosecutors have said.
Pell sat impassively during Tuesday’s court hearing, wearing a beige sports coat over a dark shirt and clerical collar.
His conviction is another hammer blow to the Church, which has struggled to convince the world it is serious about tackling widespread child abuse and pedophilia.
Pell was appointed by Pope Francis to manage the Vatican finances in 2014 and was one of the pontiff’s closest advisors as a member of the so-called C9 council until being dropped from that body the day after his December 11 conviction.
News of his conviction will be a serious setback as the pope pursues a campaign to show the church’s determination to fight sex abuse.
Just two days earlier, Pope Francis closed a historic Vatican summit on sexual abuse by priests by likening the abuse to “human sacrifice”.
“We are dealing with abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth,” Francis said in closing remarks to the summit, vowing to deal with every case of abuse “with the utmost seriousness”.
But critics say the institution is still moving too slowly in dealing with a problem that is global in scale and, at a minimum, spans decades.
Pell’s case has caused consternation in Australia, where he had once been praised by luminaries from a prime minister down and was a leading conservative voice on issues ranging from gay marriage to climate change.
For decades, Pell denied being an abuser or covering up sex abuse, but he did admit he “mucked up” in dealing with pedophile priests in the state of Victoria.
During his trial, defense lawyers ridiculed the charges against him, arguing that the cathedral sacristy was a hive of activity following Sunday mass and that it would have been impossible to assault choirboys in such circumstances.
Australia’s media has strongly protested the gag order imposed on the case, which forbade them from even mentioning the existence of the trial or the order itself.
Following Pell’s December conviction, some international media reported the verdict, while local newspapers published front-page stories informing readers that a prominent Australian had been found guilty of serious crimes, but they were not allowed to reveal what or who.
Australian media said Tuesday that they subsequently received “show cause” letters from the court explaining why they should not face contempt charges for their reporting on the case.
Around one in five Australians are Catholic, roughly five million people.
A five-year royal commission inquiry into child abuse said in a report issued last year that tens of thousands of children had been sexually abused in Australian churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools in a “national tragedy” over many generations.
Before Pell, the most high-profile case in Australia concerning sex abuse in the Church was the conviction earlier last year of the former archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, on charges of concealing crimes by a pedophile priest in the 1970s.
Wilson successfully appealed that conviction in early December.
Pope Francis admitted Tuesday that priests and bishops in the Catholic Church had sexually abused nuns.
“There are some priests and also bishops who have done it,” the pontiff said in response to a journalist’s question on the abuse of nuns, speaking on the return flight from his trip to the United Arab Emirates.
The papal admission followed a rare outcry last week from the Vatican’s women’s magazine over the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and religious sisters feeling forced to have abortions or raise children not recognised by their fathers.
The issue hit the headlines last year after a nun accused an Indian bishop of repeatedly raping her in a case that triggered rare dissent within the country’s Catholic Church.
Francis said the problem could be found “anywhere” but was prevalent in “some new congregations and in some regions”.
“I think it’s still going on, because it’s not something that just goes away like that. On the contrary,” he added.
He said the Church has “suspended several clerics” and the Vatican has been “working (on the issue) for a long time”.
“I don’t want to hear it said that the Church has not got this problem, because it has.
“Must we do more? Yes! Do we want to? Yes!” he said.
The February issue of “Women Church World”, a supplement distributed with the Vatican’s Osservatore Romano newspaper, warned that nuns have been silent over abuse for decades for fear of retaliation.
It said the Vatican received reports of priests abusing nuns in Africa in the 1990s.
“If the Church continues to close its eyes to the scandal — made even worse by the fact that abuse of women brings about procreation and is therefore at the origin of forced abortions and children who aren’t recognised by priests — the oppression of women in the Church will never change,” editor Lucetta Scaraffia wrote.
Pope Francis will make his first trip to Panama on Wednesday for a gathering of more than 150,000 young Catholics from across the globe at the World Youth Day festival.
The 82-year-old pope will use the major event on the Catholic calendar to address the problems of poverty, corruption and migration in his native Latin America, church officials said.
“Our youth, particularly in Central America, need opportunities,” said Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa.
Often, their “hard reality” was a choice between emigration or “falling into the clutches of drug traffickers,” said Ulloa, in Rome for a preparatory visit.
It will be Francis’ third World Youth Day event, having presided over the gathering in Rio de Janeiro shortly after his election as pope in 2013 and again in Krakow, Poland in 2016.
In Poland, he challenged conservative governments in Central and Eastern Europe to soften their resistance to migrants seeking refuge from conflict in the Middle East.
A voice for migrants
In a similar way, he is expected in Panama to stand up for migrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras who make up the majority of those traveling in caravans to the US border, despite the opposition of President Donald Trump and the American right.
“Many of the young people who are participating in the WYD are immigrants themselves,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.
Hundreds of thousands of Central Americans cross the border into Mexico every year, heading north in search of a better life. Millions more have fled economic collapse and political repression in Venezuela, straining social services in neighboring countries.
“The recent image of migrant caravans from Central America, with all their suffering, will be very much in mind,” said Ulloa.
Youth ‘can change the world’
In an advance message to the event, Francis said many young people, both believers and non-believers, had “a strength that can change the world.”
On Friday, he said in a separate video message to the World Indigenous Youth gathering in Soloy, Panama, to hold on to their cultures and roots by fighting marginalization, exclusion, waste and impoverishment.
“Return to native cultures. Take care of the roots, because from the roots comes the strength that will make you grow, prosper and bear fruit,” he told hundreds of young indigenous Catholics who will join the WYD gathering next week.
Fighting poverty will be a key theme. Extreme poverty in Latin America hit its highest level for nine years in 2017, according to a report by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
It said more than 10 percent of Latin Americans — 62 million people — were living in “extreme poverty.”
The Argentine pontiff lands in Panama on Wednesday after a 13-hour flight from Rome to begin his seventh trip to his native Latin America.
“The pope wants to get closer to young people, to those who are suffering, to send a message of hope,” said Gisotti.
Last trip marred by scandal
His last visit to the region, to Peru and Chile a year ago, was overshadowed by protests over the cover-up by church authorities of pedophile priests.
“It’s a subject which is generating a lot of attention in the church,” said Gisotti, who said the pope had “no plans to meet with victims” during his visit to Panama.
The pope will break away from the celebrations on Friday to visit a juvenile detention center in Pacora, outside Panama City. It was Francis’ personal wish to do the side visit, the spokesman said.
“That’s something that came from the pope’s heart,” according to Gisotti.
He will also visit a center for young people with AIDS on the last day of his trip.
It is the first time Francis has visited Panama as pope, in what will be the 26th trip of his papacy, taking in 40 countries. John Paul II visited the tiny Central American country for a day during a regional tour in 1983.
Pope Francis called Wednesday for categoric opposition to capital punishment to be written into an update of the most important guide to Catholic teaching.
His comments, which will be controversial with many fundamentalist Christians and some Catholics, came in a speech to clerics attending a conference in Rome to mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The catechism is a question and answer guide to what Catholics should think about a wide range of moral and social issues.
Acknowledging that the Vatican itself had historically had “recourse to the extreme and inhuman remedy” of judicial execution, Francis said past doctrinal errors should be put aside.
“We have to restate that, however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person,” he said.
The execution of a human being was fundamentally against the teachings of Christ because, by definition, it excluded the possibility of redemption, he argued.
The Catholic church has steadily increased the strength of its opposition to the use of capital punishment in recent years.
Pope John Paul II made an appeal for a global consensus on abolition in 1999 and Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI issued a similar call in 2011.
The 1992 text of the catechism says authorities should take appropriate measures in the interest of the common good without excluding the use of the death penalty in extremely grave cases.
More recent updates say justifying circumstances are now rare if not practically inexistant. And a version of the catechism aimed at younger people now includes a question, “Why is the Church opposed to the death penalty?”
Francis has made clear his own personal opposition to the death penalty on numerous occasions.
“It doesn’t give justice to victims, but it feeds vengeance,” he said in June 2016, arguing that the biblical commandment “thou shall not kill,” applied to the innocent as well as the guilty.