Tariq Aziz, Sadaam Hussein's foreign minister and a Catholic, has been sentenced to death for "crimes against humanity".

Is he guilty? He says his was a political position, and that he had no hand in murder and genocide. The court disagreed. He was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for involvement in the death penalties handed out to merchants convicted of black-market currency trading in 1992. He was also sentenced to another seven years for a campaign against Iraqi Kurds. But the legitimacy of the trials have been questioned; political interference in them is strong.

In his Christmas message in 2007 the Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel Delly, appealed for him to be released.

The death penalty is wrong. And it seems particularly wrong in this case. He gave himself up in 2003. He is elderly, frail, in prison, and in ill-health. It is hard to see how either justice or reconciliation will be served by his execution.

The Vatican has pleaded for the sentence not to be implemented. Its spokesman, Fr Lombardi, said yesterday:

"The Catholic Church's position on the death penalty is well known. 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".

Aziz's lawyers have a month to lodge an appeal. If it fails, the sentence will be carried out within 30 days.

[UPDATE: The Syrian Catholic Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul, Iraq, has called for "an international appeal calling on the Iraqi government to reverse this decision", saying: "We have to save him."]