Vatican leads protests against Saddam hanging

Describing the death sentence for Saddam Hussein as an "unjustifiably vindictive reaction", the Holy See's Cardinal Renato Martino has expressed disappointment that Iraq has "not yet made the civilised choice of abolishing the death penalty."

The 69-year-old former Iraqi dictator was sentenced to hang for committing crimes against humanity by ordering the deaths of 148 Shi'ites from a northern Baghdad village, after a 1982 assassination attempt against him, News.com.au reports.

But Cardinal Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that "punishing a crime with another crime - which is what killing for vindication is - would mean that we are still at the point of demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

"Unfortunately, Iraq is one of the few countries that have not yet made the civilised choice of abolishing the death penalty," the Vatican's equivalent of a justice minister added.

Cardinal Martino raised the ire of the US government three years ago when he said the US troops had treated Saddam "like a cow" when they captured him.

Jesuit priest Fr Michele Simone, deputy director of the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, said opposing the death penalty for Saddam did not mean accepting what he had done.

"Certainly, the situation in Iraq will not be resolved by this death sentence. Many Catholics, myself included, are against the death penalty as a matter of principle," he told Vatican Radio.

"Even in a situation like Iraq, where there are hundreds of de facto death sentences every day, adding another death to this toll will not serve anything," Fr Simone said.

Other Christian groups backed the Vatican stance with Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK Christian thinktank Ekklesia, saying that the churches needed to speak out consistently against all kinds of violence, both by states and by armed terror groups.

"The British government was complicit in the war, and it cannot evade its responsibility in this", he added.

"Humanly speaking, the desire for revenge against Saddam is entirely understandable - but it is politically unwise, and morally it contributes to the climate of increasing sectarian murder which is threatening to unpick what remains of Iraqi society in the aftermath of an armed intervention that has brought little justice and no peace."

Ekklesia, which has links to Christian Peacemaker Teams with activists working in Iraq, also highlighted what is described as "the destructive consequences of the 'myth of redemptive violence' within the world order - the quasi-religious but also secular ideology which encourages people to believe that killing is a solution".

Under Iraqi law, Saddam and his accomplices have an automatic right to appeal against their death and life sentences and the process began today.

Vatican says 'don't hang Saddam' (News.com.au, 6/11/06)
Vatican leads appeals against execution (The Age, 6/11/06)
Killing Saddam Hussein is no solution, say churches (Ekklesia, 6/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Cardinal Renato Martino
Saddam Hussein (Wikipedia)

Cardinal calls for Saddam clemency (CathNews, 23/6/06)
Cardinal says Saddam treated like a cow (CathNews, 17/12/03)
Tariq Aziz's wife appeals to Pope (CathNews, 3/9/03)
Baghdad bishop defends captured Aziz (CathNews, 28/4/03)

7 Nov 2006