Boston, Mar. 24 (CWNews.com)
(Analysis by CWN Editor Phil Lawler)
Despite a barrage of media reports to the contrary, Pope John
Paul II has not issued a moral condemnation of US military action
There can be no doubt that the Pope has staked out his opposition
to the use of force against Iraq. For weeks before the war began, he
issued a steady stream of pleas and prayers for a diplomatic
solution. Vatican diplomats worked energetically to explore
non-military options. When the fighting began last week, he
indicated his "deep pain" that war had begun.
Yes, certainly the Pope has made it clear that he would have
preferred negotiations rather than a military confrontation. But has
he condemned the war? No.
According to one Associated Press report, which has been cited
frequently in the American press: "John Paul has said there is no
legal or moral justification for military action."
There's just one problem with that AP report. It is wrong.
If he said that there is "no legal or moral justification" for
this war, the Pope would be saying that this war is unjust. And if
the war is unjust, then Christians cannot participate in or support
it. The Pope has said no such thing.
In the weeks leading up to the war, the Holy See has insisted on
two points: First, Iraq should disarm. Second, that disarmament
should be achieved without the use of military force, through the
authority of the United Nations. Notice that this public stance did
not "tilt" toward Iraq; on the contrary, the Vatican has always
agreed with the proposition that Saddam Hussein must be disarmed.
When the war did break out, the Vatican issued a formal statement
that said, in part:
On the one hand, it is to be regretted that the Iraqi government
did not accept the resolutions of the United Nations and the appeal
of the Pope himself, as both asked that the country disarm. On the
other hand, it is to be deplored that the path of negotiations,
according to international law, for a peaceful solution of the Iraqi
drama has been interrupted.
Notice that once again, the finger pointed first toward Baghdad,
blaming the Iraqi regime for its failure to disarm. Only then did
the Vatican lament that a peaceful solution had not been achieved.
Just a few days earlier, Pope John Paul had issued his own
appeal, directing his remarks first to Baghdad and then, indirectly,
The political leaders of Baghdad certainly have the urgent duty
to collaborate fully with the international community to eliminate
every reason for armed intervention. To them I direct my urgent
appeal: the fate of your fellow-citizens should always have
priority. But I would also like to remind the member countries of
the United Nations, and especially those who make up the Security
Council, that the use of force represents the last recourse, after
having exhausted every other peaceful solution, in keeping with the
well-known principles of the U.N. Charter.
That is why, in the face of the tremendous consequences that an
international military operation would have for the population of
Iraq and for the balance of the Middle East region, already sorely
tried, and for the extremisms that could stem from it, I say to all:
There is still time to negotiate; there is still room for peace, it
is never too late to come to an understanding and to continue
When US President George W. Bush announced that he was prepared
to issue attack orders, the Vatican responded with an interesting
Whoever decides that all peaceful means that international law
has put at our disposition have been exhausted assumes a serious
responsibility before God, his conscience and history.
Does that statement convey a moral condemnation? Not at all! The
Vatican indicates that when a President (or any world leader) makes
the decision to go to war, he takes on "a serious responsibility."
President Bush acknowledged as much himself, in that same speech.
No one can doubt that the Pope would have preferred to see
President Bush make a different choice. But the Catechism of the
Catholic Church teaches that political leaders have the ultimate
responsibility for judging whether the conditions for a "just war"
have been fulfilled. In accordance with that teaching, the Pope has
avoided any direct statement on the morality of the war.
If American "hawks" are unhappy with the Pope's public
statements, they can take some comfort from the fact that European
pacifists are also unhappy. As the Italian newspaper L'Espresso
recently pointed out, a group of Catholic pacifists recently wrote
an open letter to the Holy Father, pleading for "a simple and
unequivocal" denunciation of the war. As L'Espresso also pointed
out, those pacifists remain unsatisfied; they have never seen the
clear papal statement that they want.
Since the war began, Pope John Paul has issued two public
statements, each touching on the subject only obliquely.
In a meeting with a group of American Lutherans, the Pope said
that "in a world filled with danger and insecurity," Christians
"must stand together in proclaiming the values of the Kingdom of
God." He said this solidarity was particularly important in light of
"the events of recent days." Can anyone disagree with that
Similarly, during his public audience on Sunday, March 23, the
Pope said: "When war, like the one underway in Iraq, threatens the
future of humanity, it is even more important to proclaim, in a
strong and decisive voice, that peace is the only way to build a
more just and unified society." He added that "violence and arms can
never resolve men's problems." Can anyone reasonably interpret that
statement as a denunciation of US policy?
Pope John Paul has frequently raised questions about US strategy
toward Iraq-- as have many other world leaders. But to say that the
Pope has "condemned" or "denounced" the war is to go well beyond the
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