POLITICS
09/24/2015 07:00 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2016

Newt Gingrich 'More Open' To Ending Death Penalty After Pope's Address

"We need to profoundly rethink what we've done over the past 25 years in criminal justice."

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and onetime Republican presidential candidate, said he is "more open" to eliminating the death penalty after hearing Pope Francis' address to Congress.

"I very deeply believe we need to profoundly rethink what we've done over the past 25 years in criminal justice," Gingrich said Thursday on HuffPost Live.

Earlier that day, the pope had spoken to a joint meeting of Congress about many issues, including the importance of ending capital punishment.

"The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development," Pope Francis said. "This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty."

Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism several years ago, was "very impressed" with the way the pope made his argument. As for the death penalty, he said, "You do want to be careful not to execute someone that you find later on, as we've found, to be innocent."

The former U.S. representative had previously taken a strict stance on capital punishment, even proposing death as a penalty for possession of significant amounts of marijuana. But as he noted Thursday, Gingrich has been evolving on criminal justice issues for some time now. He even found common ground with hip-hop mogul Jay Z last year on California's Proposition 47, which sought to make the state a little less "tough on crime."

"I think we have destroyed lives by getting them in situations where they learn how to be good criminals, but not anything else. In that sense, I am more open than I would have been," Gingrich said Thursday.

Watch the video above.

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