Pope Francis has said that the fifth commandment in the Bible, "Thou shalt not kill," applies to the death penalty, and called Christians everywhere to fight to end the punishment.
"Even a criminal has the inviolable right to life, a gift of God," Francis said as part of a speech marking the Year of Mercy at the Vatican, alongside the beginning of an an international conference called "For a world without the death penalty."
"This issue has to be considered within the perspective of a penal justice, which is more and more in compliance with human dignity and God's plan for humanity and society," the pope said, according to Catholic News Service.
The Roman Catholic Church leader called on the nations of the world to abolish the death penalty, and said that Christians are tasked to campaign for the issue.
"All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve the conditions of life in prison, in the respect of human dignity of people deprived of freedom," Francis continued.
In the past, Francis has said that life imprisonment is also too harsh a punishment, and said governments need to find an alternative way to rehabilitate criminals.
"All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment," Francis told representatives of the International Association of Penal Law in October 2014.
"Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty," he added.
The death penalty has been abolished in a number of countries worldwide, while in others it remains effectively not in practice. The Death Penalty Information Center reported that 22 countries carried out judicial executions in 2014, the same as in 2013.
While China led the field with over 1,000 executions, the United States also found itself in the top six countries that carried out the most executions, alongside Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Sudan.
The death penalty remains a controversial issue in America, with a Gallup poll from October 2015 finding that most Americans, or 61 percent, continue to support capital punishment.
Some evangelical groups have moved away from a position of strong support for the practice, with the National Association of Evangelicals admitting in October 2015 that there are various opposing views among its members.
"Evangelical Christians differ in their beliefs about capital punishment, often citing strong biblical and theological reasons either for the just character of the death penalty in extreme cases or for the sacredness of all life, including the lives of those who perpetrate serious crimes and yet have the potential for repentance and reformation. We affirm the conscientious commitment of both streams of Christian ethical thought," read the statement by the NAE Board of Directors, releasing a new resolution on capital punishment.
NAE President Leith Anderson added: "A growing number of Evangelicals call for government resources to be shifted away from the death penalty. Our statement allows for their advocacy and for the advocacy of those of goodwill who support capital punishment in limited circumstances as a valid exercise of the state and as a deterrent to crime."