Francis outlined the Catholic church's opposition to capital punishment in a letter to the International Commission against the Death Penalty, a group of former government officials, jurists and others who had an audience with him at the Vatican.
    
The pope wrote that the principle of legitimate personal defence isn't adequate justification to execute someone. "When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of aggression, but rather for an act committed in the past."
    
"Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed," Francis declared. He was building on church teaching, including pronouncements during St John Paul II's papacy, that modern prison systems make executions unnecessary.
    
Capital punishment "does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance," Francis added.
    
"For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice," Francis told the anti-death penalty advocates.
    
While he didn't mention the United States by name, Francis cited debates about which method should be used to carry out executions. "There is discussion in some quarters about the method of killing, as if it were possible to find ways of 'getting it right,'" the pope said.
    
"But there is no humane way of killing another person," Francis concluded.
    
In previous comments, Francis denounced life imprisonment as unjustifiable punishment. In his remarks, he called life terms a "sort of covert death penalty," since it "deprives detainees not only of their freedom, but also of hope."

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