The Vatican has spoken out against the death sentence handed down to Iraqi deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz yesterday.
"The Catholic Church's position on the death penalty is well known," a spokesperson declared.
He continued: "It is hoped, therefore, that the sentence against Tariq Aziz will not be implemented, precisely in order to favour reconciliation and the reconstruction of peace and justice in Iraq after the great sufferings the country has experienced."
"As concerns the possibility of a humanitarian intervention, the Holy See is not accustomed to operate publicly but through the diplomatic channels at its disposal," the Vatican said.
The European Union's international representative, Baroness Catherine Ashton, will appeal to Baghdad to block the execution. The EU declares the death penalty "unacceptable".
Mr Aziz, aged 74, was Saddam Hussein's number two, and a well known international figure. For some he was a sophisticated apologist for the regime, to others a pawn in a vicious regime whose excesses he has privately admitted - though his life story and account of Iraq under Saddam and the US-led invasion is now unlikely to be told.
The former Iraqi deputy Prime Minister is ailing and frail, and suffered a stroke earlier this year.
He was condemned to hang by the Supreme Court in Baghdad, according to Iraq state TV, "for his role in the elimination of Islamic [Shi'ite] parties".
The sentence was described by critics of the judgment, who include some opponents of the former regime, as "blatantly political".
There is distress in some quarters in Iraq that the new government is perpetuating the cycle of revenge and violence in the country.
The sentence against Aziz coincides with the Wikileaks revelations about widespread judicial abuses and torture against detainees and insurgency suspects in Iraq.
"This is not liberation", a former political opponent and human rights advocate imprisoned by Saddam Hussein told Ekklesia yesterday.
Aziz was born Mikhael Yuhann in 1936 in Mosul. He is a Chaldean Christian, the only one in the former Sunni and secular Ba'athist inner circle.