The Catholic Church firmly opposes the death penalty and urges all states to move toward its abolition, said the Vatican's permanent observer to United Nations agencies in Geneva.
"My delegation contends that bloodless means of defending the common good and upholding justice are possible and calls on states to adapt their penal system to demonstrate their adhesion to a more humane form of punishment," Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told the U.N. Human Rights Council March 4 during a discussion on the death penalty.
The archbishop said the Vatican "fully supports the efforts to abolish" the death penalty and suggested two steps to reach this goal. The first is to "sustain the social reforms that would enable society to implement the abolition of the death penalty, and the second is to improve prison conditions to ensure the human dignity of prisoners.
Citing the past three pontificates, Archbishop Tomasi briefly explained church teaching on the issue, saying the "steady improvements in the organization of the penal system" in most states makes it "evident nowadays that means, other than the death penalty," are sufficient to protect public safety against aggressors.
Countries working to change their penal law—both to respect prisoners' human dignity and to protect public safety—"are moving in the right direction," he said.
Archbishop Tomasi noted growing public opinion in favor of abolition, which he said the Vatican delegation hopes will "encourage states" to drop capital punishment.
In addition, he said, the death penalty has not worked to deter crime and its "irreversibility... does not allow for eventual corrections in the case of wrongful convictions."
According to the United Nations, 160 countries have either abolished the death penalty or have enacted a moratorium. In the past six months, Chad, Fiji and Madagascar abolished the death penalty. While the trend is generally toward abolition, there were more state executions in 2013 than in 2012, and some states reintroduced it, the United Nations reported.
In the United States, the death penalty remains legal in 32 states. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the number of death sentences imposed in the U.S. has dropped in the past 10 years, from 138 to 72. Last fall, more than 3,000 inmates were on death row. In the first two months of 2015, eight inmates were executed in the U.S.; 35 inmates were executed last year.
On March 5 America joined other national Catholic publications on urging an end to the use of the death penalty in the United States.