The Vatican on Saturday denounced Saddam Hussein's execution as "tragic" and said it risked fueling revenge and new violence in Iraq.

"An execution is always tragic news, reason for sadness, even in the case of a person who is guilty of grave crimes," the Holy See's spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said in a statement released by the Vatican press office.

Earlier in the morning, Lombardi made similar comments on Vatican Radio.

"The position of the Catholic Church — against the death penalty — has been reiterated many times," the spokesman said in the statement, referring to the Vatican's overall opposition to capital punishment.

"Killing the guilty one is not the way to rebuild justice and reconcile society," the spokesman said. "On the contrary, there is the risk that the spirit of revenge is fueled and that the seeds of new violence are sown."

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"In this dark time in the life of the Iraq people, one can only hope that all leaders truly make every effort so that in a dramatic situation glimmers of reconciliation and of peace finally can be seen," Lombardi said.

The Vatican's top official for dialogue between religions, Cardinal Paul Poupard, said: "We pray to the Lord and for the dead and the living so that this will not become an occasion for new violence."

"We are always sad when men take lives which belong to the Lord," Poupard told the Italian news agency ANSA.

In an interview published in an Italian daily earlier in the week, the Vatican's top prelate for justice issues, Cardinal Renato Martino, said executing Saddam would mean punishing "a crime with another crime."

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In one of the late Pope John Paul II's encyclicals, "Evangelium Vitae" (The Gospel of Life) in 1995, the pontiff laid out the Catholic Church's stance against capital punishment, saying that in a modern world, with improved prison systems, cases in which the death penalty could be justified were "practically nonexistent." The staunch opposition was reiterated in 1997, in the Church's updated catechism, a compendium of Church doctrine.

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