Japan may unwittingly find itself under international scrutiny over its use of the death penalty when Pope Francis makes his first visit to Japan this autumn.

Francis has called for abolishing capital punishment, and sources in the Vatican said that discussions were under way with officials in Japan to bring about a meeting between the pontiff and Iwao Hakamada, 83, who spent decades on death row and has long insisted on his innocence.

Hakamada, a former professional boxer, was convicted of murdering a family of four during a robbery and setting fire to their home in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1966.

Although Hakamada's death sentence was finalized in 1980 by the Supreme Court, his lawyers and supporters provided evidence that led the Shizuoka District Court in 2014 to grant him a retrial and his release after nearly half a century behind bars.

The Tokyo High Court in 2018 overturned the retrial order and Hakamada's lawyers have appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

Hakamada continues to live in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, even though the retrial order has been rescinded.

According to sources, Hakamada's lawyers sent Francis a letter last year asking that he meet with Hakamada, who was baptized while in prison.

Talks center on the possibility of Hakamada meeting the pope around the time of a Mass planned for Nov. 25 at Tokyo Dome, if his health is up to it.

His mental and physical condition deteriorated sharply during his lengthy incarceration.

The Vatican and the government on Sept. 13 announced the pope's itinerary for his Japan visit. He will arrive in Tokyo on Nov. 23 and visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima the following day. Francis will meet Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Nov. 25 and depart Japan on Nov. 26.