Expectations are growing that Pope Francis will meet with an 83-year-old man whose death sentence was recently suspended after a 48-year stint on death row, to send a clear signal about his opposition to capital punishment.

It was reported in mid-September that the Vatican is considering having the pope meet with Iwao Hakamada, the former boxer who was convicted of a 1966 quadruple murder, when the pontiff visits Japan next month. Hakamada was released in 2014 under a district court ruling citing DNA evidence and is awaiting retrial at the Supreme Court.

With the Catholic Church having announced in August last year a change in its catechism to state that "the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," campaigners hope the pope will issue some kind of message to Japan about the death penalty if the meeting takes place.