With the death by hanging of the former Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein expected to take place in a matter of days, his traditional Vatican advocate returns to the fore:
Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's [Pontifical Council for] Justice and Peace, was quoted in Italy's [La] Repubblica newspaper on Thursday saying there was a chance for last-minute clemency for Saddam after an appeals court upheld his death sentence.-30-
"There's still a period of 30 days (before the death sentence must be carried out), the president's signature is required, things can happen," Martino was reported as saying.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has also condemned the decision to impose the death penalty.
Martino criticized the U.S. authorities at the time of Saddam's capture in December 2003 for releasing TV pictures of soldiers checking his teeth "as if he were a cow," images that he said needlessly humiliated the man.
The former papal envoy to the United Nations said there was "no doubt" that Saddam was responsible for mass murders, but that did not change the Church's opposition to capital punishment.
"You can't think of compensating for one crime with another one," he said. Saddam was sentenced in November for crimes against humanity and the death penalty was upheld on Tuesday.
Martino said he backed the idea of holding a peace conference aimed at solving all the major conflicts in the Middle East and reiterated the Vatican's position that invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led coalition was wrong.
"(Pope) John Paul II did his duty. He said it would be an adventure from which there was no return. Now that is what we are seeing."