Catholic Church Denounces Iran Stoning

Earlier this weekend, the Vatican raised the question of whether they might participate in behind-the-scenes diplomacy to save the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian widow condemned to death for adultery.  This is the first time that the Catholic Church has released a public statement on the case.  In it, they were particularly vocal on stoning as a brutal form of capital punishment.  Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi articulated the church’s opposition to the death penalty in general; he only hinted, however, at the future role of Vatican diplomats in attempts to save Ashtiani’s life.

Other world leaders have spoken out on Ashtiani’s behalf.  Most recently, Carla Bruni was condemned by the Iranian media (which said, among other things, that she was a prostitute and herself deserved the death penalty) for writing an open letter declaring her support for Ashtiani.  The Brazilian president appealed to the Iranian government, asking that they permit Ashtiani to seek safety in Brazil.

Pope John Paul II was known, in particular, for his attempts to save the lives of death-row inmates, but the Catholic Church has something of an ambiguous relationship with the death penalty.  In a 1995 encyclical, John Paul II explained that the Church’s opposition to capital punishment was almost complete, writing that it was only acceptable “in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

But Christian theologians and early Church fathers, as well as the Hebrew scriptures, often do not reflect this clear view.  An absolutist position is difficult for Catholics to defend; rather, many modern theologians wrestle with the context in which the death penalty should be applied.  And certainly, punishing Ashtiani for a crime like adultery (if she should, indeed, be punished at all) does not require bloody means.

It’s unclear whether Vatican diplomacy will have an effect on the ultimate verdict.  But Iran and the Holy See do have something of a unique relationship; some cite structural and theological similarities between Catholicism and Shi’a Islam as one of the reasons for Iran’s large diplomatic corps in the Vatican.  A 2007 Time article pointed out the possibility of Vatican-led mediation over the issue of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.  So although Brazil, which has good relations with Iran, failed to move the government on Ashtiani’s behalf, the Vatican may have more luck.

Meanwhile, Ashtiani may have suffered lashing in prison as a result of a mix-up over a photo of a bare-headed woman with pink lipstick and earrings which the Times of London published, saying that it was Ashtiani.  Five days later, the Times printed a retraction, saying that it was in fact an Iranian exile living in Sweden, but rumors are spreading that Ashtiani received 99 lashes in prison for “indecency” after the photo appeared.

Photo from the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty website -


Klaus P.
Klaus Peters7 years ago

Just today I saw the arrogant muscle flexing of Iranian delegates at the UN in NY. That sums it up for me, they threaten the world with nuclear weapons. They can't even protect their own people and condemn a young lady who got sucked in by some useless idiot who now hides behind islam. I am a Lutheran, but I do agree that any faith should try to save Ashtiani, most likely she followed her heart, was promised the earth and dumped buy some low life sewer rat who now is hiding under islam law escaping any punishment. If the Iranian government is so obsessed to punish Ashtiani you should punish the cockroach first and then the victim. I am not stupid, the Koran is not about holy war or degrading women or supreme males, it is about justice and protecting your own, and Ashtiani deserves a fair go. If Iran cannot do that, at least let some honest person adopt her to save her life abroad. I would be inclined to do that, my wife, daughter and my country's gov. being agreeable. I am sure the Iranian gov. will come to a fair solution in the end in the name of Allah, also not forgetting her own parents who want her back so much and are not allowed to even speak to her. Ashtiani, I wish you justice, you are a good person. If everything else fails I will still try to adopt you and treat you as a daughter. Iran give Ashtiani a fair go.

Kelly M.
Kelly M7 years ago

Any support this woman receives is beneficial. If anything positive comes out regarding this story it is the exposure that is being radiated across the world about the treatment of women in that country and others like it !

Yasmine Saad
Yasmine S7 years ago

I hope the Vatican is honest from their hearts, I do! Nobody should be un-serious about supporting her!

jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

Good move by the church! No one should stand by and allow stoning.

John Nimmo
John Nimmo7 years ago

no man or woman should ever be stoned to death. that went out with the dim dark ages. forget about if the catholic church is right or wrong.

Tatiana T.
M B7 years ago

I personally have no respect for the Catholic church (like many) in light of their recent child-abuse cover-up history, so I was quite surprised that they would speak out for the rights of Ashtiani, especially considering that the Catholic church has never been progressive, compassionate, humanitarian or for women's rights. Well, cudos to the church for supporting Ashtiani , but it still makes many wonder what their ulterior motive really is....something that has to benefit the church financially or to try to win back ex-converts after their child-abuse scandal.

Sherylee Harper
Sherylee Harper7 years ago

I hope that world pressure will remove Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani from Iran with her remaining family. And that they find a safe haven where they will be given a chance to heal and grow.

But, I seriously doubt that will happen.

Iran's political elite and Muslim extremist hierarchy will kill her because they can.

These mental midgets with archaic notions of morality and their inbred cultural misogyny have no concept of any other alternative. Like they are small children with nuclear weapons, they have no idea what it is they do with such callous, selfish, thoughtless and thoroughly self-serving ignorance.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani I pray for you.

ana p.
ana p7 years ago

About time! Good for the Vatican!

C. G.
C. G7 years ago

Thank G-d we are living in West...

Catrina Velez
Catrina Velez7 years ago

It is absolutely disgusting to see that as many comments condemn the Catholic church as condemn the Iranian Islamic clergy for torturing and condemning this poor woman. Many such remarks are merely ignorant, others are the spewed effluent of Catholic-haters, bait-casters and dung-throwers. Such people are NOT helping to save this woman, they just yell to hear themselves holler.