Friday, January 23, 2004

Change of Heart at the Vatican?

From John Allen Jr.'s column "Word from Rome" (January 23, 2004):

The Holy See has not changed its opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Recent weeks have seen a number of subtle signals, however, that it wants to disassociate itself with some of the forms that opposition took, especially the more shrill versions of leftist anti-Americanism and a kind of quasi-pacifist naiveté about the risks posed by international terrorism.

The pope's message for World Peace Day was toned down after officials in the Secretariat of State found some of the rhetoric too sharp, especially suggestions that the United States had ridden roughshod over international law in its invasion of Iraq. In the end, the text not only steered clear of such an accusation, it stated that international law itself needs to be reviewed in light of the new threat posed by stateless terrorism -- an argument President Bush has been making since 9/11.

James Nicholson, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, is sponsoring a conference on "International Law and New Threats" tentatively scheduled for March 26, which will involve Vatican officials in a dialogue on this question.

On Jan. 15, the pope himself spoke in somber tones about terrorism, addressing leaders from the city of Rome and the surrounding region. "Together it’s essential to overcome tensions and conflicts," John Paul said. "It's necessary to fight in compact fashion against terrorism, which, unfortunately, has not avoided touching even this our beloved city."

Last week, the Vatican's new foreign minister voiced understanding for a key Bush doctrine -- so-called "preventive" war, the Italian equivalent for what in American argot is called "preemptive" force. In an exclusive interview with NCR, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo added that such a use of force should occur under the auspices of the United Nations, not individual states, but it was nevertheless a clear sign of understanding for the U.S. position.