Speaking today to Congress, Pope Francis called for an end to the death penalty in the U.S. and across the world. Francis said that every life is sacred and society can only benefit from rehabilitating those convicted of crimes, reports the Associated Press. “I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said. “Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit a jail in Philadelphia on Sunday. His speech today did not include an extended discussion of criminal justice. A majority in the U.S. favors the death penalty for those convicted of murder, but as of last spring, support for capital punishment was as low as it has been in the past 40 years, a Pew Research Center survey reported. Fifty-six percent of those asked favored the death penalty, and 38 were opposed. The share supporting the death penalty declined six percentage points since 2011. Throughout much of the 1980s and 90s, support for the death penalty often surpassed 70 percent. Thirty-one U.S. states and the federal government allow the death penalty, and 19 have abolished it. The most recent to outlaw it is Nebraska, whose legislature voted this year, but a referendum is likely next year.