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Issue Date:  August 11, 2006

Top Vatican diplomat, U.S. bishops' spokesman criticize U.S. Lebanon policy

New York

Both the Vatican’s top diplomat and the American bishops’ senior spokesman on international affairs have roundly criticized U.S. policy on Lebanon, especially its opposition to an immediate cease-fire in hostilities between Israeli forces and Hezbollah.

During an emergency Rome summit July 26 involving 15 nations, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected calls for an immediate halt to the fighting, arguing that a cease-fire cannot mean a return to the status quo ante with Hezbollah ready to strike again at any time.

Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, told Vatican Radio July 27, however, that an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon “is possible and therefore obligatory.”

Lajolo said that allowing the fighting to continue reflects only a “superficial realism.” Conditions for a lasting peace, he said “can only be, and must be, created with means other than the killing of innocent persons.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chair of the Committee on International Policy for the U.S. bishops, said in a July 26 interview with NCR that “the escalation of violence will not bring us closer to a resolution which is just.” (See full text of interview.)

Wenski said the bishops agree with Rice that such a cease-fire must be meaningful, but differ as to what that implies.

“In our view, it’s meaningful when people stop dying,” he said.

“Some people seem to want the fighting to continue until there is no Hezbollah left to disarm, but that’s not the right way to reduce the number of mothers who have to mourn the loss of their sons and daughters.”

Wenski said that while his committee’s position does not “bind the conscience of American Catholics,” the burden is on any Catholic who disagrees to show how support for the fighting could be justified by Catholic moral teaching.”

“I don’t know if they’re free to say, for example, ‘Israel should bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age,’ ” Wenski said in a telephone interview. “I don’t see how they can find any comfort for that view. The catechism doesn’t say anything about bombing back to the Stone Age.”

These growing differences in judgment over Lebanon, according to most observers, represent the most serious diplomatic impasse between the Catholic church and the U.S. government since the beginning of the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, August 11, 2006

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