e-mail us

Paths to Peace

As Vatican calls for peace, diplomat plans defense of ‘preventive war’


A full court Vatican press against war in Iraq continued in late January, with a Jan. 16-18 interreligious conference on “Spiritual Resources for Peace,” plus strong statements from Vatican media outlets suggesting the Bush administration’s interest in Iraq is at least in part oil, and criticizing its “propagandistic attitude.”

In apparent response to the Vatican’s growing antiwar line, American Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson announced that in early February he will bring conservative American Catholic commentator Michael Novak to Rome to defend the morality of a “preventive war.”

Novak, director of social and political studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is one of several lay intellectuals who have supported the preventive war concept, formulated by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That concept has been the object of strong Vatican criticism. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in mid-September that, “The concept of preventive war does not appear in the catechism.”

The Jan. 16-18 interreligious conference, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, brought together 38 participants from 15 countries and eight religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.

“The talk of war has intensified in recent months, but there has not been much increase in the talk of peace,” the final message from the meeting said. “Dedicated efforts are needed to examine how … we can find new ways to respect our religious differences while forging peaceful bonds based on our common humanity.”

Participants pledged to reexamine their scriptural traditions to reject interpretations that foster violence, to cultivate the example of believers who work for peace, and to meet regularly to seek areas of cooperation.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington offered an “American perspective.” He warned, “Unless one addresses the root causes of war and conflict we will never achieve the lasting peace that we seek.

“We find in the poverty of so many people in so many nations, in the great chasm that separates the rich and the poor, in the lack of justice and the discrimination that oppresses minorities in many lands, in the social evils that can accompany globalization without solidarity … an extraordinary need for the world to recognize that it is truly one family,” McCarrick said.

In response to questions from reporters, McCarrick said he has spoken with Bush about the war.

“President Bush and I speak from time to time. I sincerely believe he does not want war. But perhaps there are things that he sees that we can’t see,” McCarrick said.

“Everybody in the U.S., including the president, would love to see the situation in Iraq taken care of without war,” McCarrick said. “From what we [the U.S. bishops] know from the government we don’t see justification for going to war but they may have other information that we don’t know.”

McCarrick said it may be time to rethink the concept of a “just war.”

“I think such an ongoing reconsideration is present in religious circles. I just read a book about the pattern bombing of Germany in World War II and all the destruction it brought in just one night. Today, even more destruction can be unleashed in less than a day. On the other hand if you have an aggressor who wants to overcome the rights of a people and invade another country ... a war of self-defense is not just a possibility, but probably an obligation.”

Patriarch Michel Sabbah of the Latin Catholic church in Jerusalem was also scheduled to address the conference, but he turned back after Israeli security forces subjected his bags to extensive search at the Jerusalem airport. Sabbah argued that he was traveling under a diplomatic passport and such searches were improper.

Meantime, Vatican-related media outlets are keeping up a strong antiwar drumbeat.

“It seems that the root motive is the geopolitical position that Iraq occupies in the Middle East region,” said the Jesuit-edited Civiltà Cattolica, which is reviewed prior to publication by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

U.S. energy needs are outstripping Saudi Arabia’s production abilities, “thus the need for the United States to have sure access to Iraqi petroleum,” the magazine said.

Civiltà Cattolica also expressed reservations about American political psychology.

“In the depths of the soul of the United States, there is a sort of messianic vocation on behalf of the human race” and a sense that America must defeat the “Evil Empire.”

On Jan. 21, the director of Vatican Radio, Jesuit Fr. Pasquale Borgomeo, said during a broadcast commentary that the “propagandistic attitude of the U.S. administration is increasingly less convincing.”

A link between Iraq and the terrorism that resulted in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States is “entirely to be demonstrated,” Borgomeo said. He praised recent peace demonstrations in America, calling it a form of “patriotism for peace.”

Borgomeo said the rapport between the United States and the United Nations is the “crucial point” of the present crisis. “A unilateral attack … would destroy the system of alliances and amount to a challenge to the role and prestige of the United Nations,” Borgomeo said. “It would represent the imposition of hegemony by a superpower founded on force and not on law.”

Borgomeo also suggested that commercial interests are behind the drive for war, both the desire of Western petroleum companies to control Iraq’s oil, and a desire for ratings among TV networks preparing extensive war coverage.

“But war is not a videogame,” Borgomeo said.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@natcath.org.

National Catholic Reporter, January 31, 2003