Pope Condemns Iran’s Death Penalty for Protesters


Pope Francis

on Monday condemned Iran’s executions of protesters in response to the demonstrations in recent months against the clerical regime.

“The right to life is also threatened in those places where the death penalty continues to be imposed, as is happening in Iran in these days,” the pope said. He spoke of the protests as “demanding greater respect for the dignity of women,” though he didn’t mention the protest movement’s broader challenge to the Islamic Republic.

His delayed and limited words of support for the protesters reflect a tension between the pope’s desire for good relations with a major Islamic country and his advocacy for women.

Pope Francis, who has made outreach to the Muslim world a priority of his pontificate, hadn’t commented publicly before Monday on the protests in Iran. He was asked about the topic at a news conference in November, but responded with some general comments on the subject of women’s rights, including his promotion of women to positions of authority at the Vatican.

The pope, in a speech on Monday to ambassadors to the Holy See, also called for resumption of negotiations between Iran, the U.S. and other major powers over Iran’s nuclear program, to avert what he called a renewed risk of nuclear war.

The continuing demonstrations in Iran, which erupted in September after the death of a young woman detained for allegedly violating Iran’s female dress code, quickly turned into a movement that is seeking to overthrow the Islamic Republic, which was founded after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Iran is known to have executed four people in connection with the demonstrations, most recently on Saturday, when it hanged two men who were convicted of killing a member of a pro-regime militia force.

WSJ’s Shelby Holliday breaks down the history and symbolism behind three key themes that have emerged from the recent protests in Iran. Photo composite: Noah Friedman

Pope Francis strengthened the Catholic Church’s teaching against the death penalty in 2018, defining it as always “inadmissible.” Until then, the church had taught that capital punishment was permissible in rare cases when it “is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

Pope Francis’ address to the diplomats touched on a range of concerns in world affairs. He described the war in Ukraine as part of a continuing “third world war that is taking place in a globalized world where conflicts involve only certain parts of the planet directly, but in fact involve them all.”

The pope also warned of the weakening of democracy and heightened polarization, including in Brazil, where thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court in the capital city of Brasília on Sunday.

Write to Francis X. Rocca at francis.rocca@wsj.com

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