A liberal Belgian cardinal tipped as a possible successor to Pope John Paul said on Sunday Saddam Hussein should be symbolically sentenced to death to satisfy public opinion but not executed.
U.S. President George W. Bush has said Saddam deserved the "ultimate penalty" for his brutal rule in Iraq, stirring unease in Europe, where the death penalty is banned, and concern in the Middle East that the ex-dictator's fate has already been sealed.
Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop in Brussels, said no one had the right even when it came to Saddam "to effectively rob him of his life".
"On the other hand, you have to show to the world opinion that these things are absolutely not acceptable," he told Flemish VRT Television.
"I see no other way than to symbolically pronounce the death penalty... because for the public opinion and for the world, he would then be stricken from the book of the living," Danneels said, adding that the sentence should be turned into life imprisonment.
U.S. forces are keeping the ousted 66-year-old dictator at a secret location for interrogation before he is put on trial in the months ahead.
The pope has called for a worldwide ban on the death penalty, saying there are practically no cases where it is necessary.