Pope John Paul II calls War a Defeat for Humanity: Neoconservative Iraq Just War Theories Rejected
by Mark and Louise Zwick
The most consistent and frequent promoter of peace and human rights for the last two decades has been Pope John Paul II.
From Iraqi War I to Iraqi War II, he has echoed the voice of Paul VI, crying out before the United Nations in 1965: War No More, War Never Again!
John Paul II stated before the 2003 war that this war would be a defeat for humanity which could not be morally or legally justified.
In the weeks and months before the U.S. attacked Iraq, not only the Holy Father, but also one Cardinal and Archbishop after another at the Vatican spoke out against a "preemptive" or "preventive" strike. They declared that the just war theory could not justify such a war. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said that such a "war of aggression" is a crime against peace. Archbishop Renato Martino, who used the same words in calling the possible military intervention a "crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God," also criticized the pressure that the most powerful nations exerted on the less powerful ones on the U.N. Security Council to support the war. The Pope spoke out almost every day against war and in support of diplomatic efforts for peace.
John Paul II sent his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, a friend of the Bush family, to remonstrate with the U.S. President before the war began. The message: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.
After the United States began its attacks against Iraq, FOX News actually reported the immediate comments of the Holy Father, made in an address at the Vatican to members of an Italian religious television channel, Telespace: "When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society," John Paul said. "Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man."
Americans were largely unaware of the depth and importance of the opposition of Church leaders to an attack on Iraq, since for the most part the mainstream media did not carry the stories. In the same way, many Americans were unaware that Pope John Paul II spoke against the first Gulf War 56 times. Media in the United States omitted this from the commentaries on the war.
Many have also been unaware of the number of Iraqis killed in that war (not to mention the war which recently "ended"). In February 2003 Business Week published an interview with Beth Osborne Daponte, a professional demographer who worked for the Census Bureau. The first Bush administration tried to fire her because her published estimates of the number of Iraqi deaths conflicted with what Dick Cheney was saying at the time. She was defended by social science professionals and was able to keep her job. Her estimates: 13,000 civilians were killed directly by American and allied forces, and about 70,000 civilians died subsequently from war-related damage to medical facilities and supplies, the electric power grid, and the water system.
In the past few years, Catholic neoconservatives have been attempting to develop a new philosophy of just war which would include preemptive strikes against other nations, what might be called a "preventive war." George Weigel has published major articles defending this position since 1995. First Things magazine published his articles and editorially agreed with this point of view. The present Bush administration has used these writings to defend the strike against Iraq. Shortly before the war began, through the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, President Bush sent Michael Novak to go to Rome to try to justify the war to the Pope and Vatican officials. Novak took with him Andrew Sullivan and William Bennett. Catholic News Service reported that the two-hour symposium was attended by some 150 invited guests, including lower-level Vatican officials, professors from church universities in Rome and diplomats accredited to the Vatican. Since with one voice Rome had already rejected the argument for a preventive war, Novak took the approach that a war on Iraq would not be a preventive war, but a continuation of a "just war," Iraqi War I, and actually a moral obligation. He argued that it was also a matter of self-defense, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was an un-scrupulous character, and therefore it was only a matter of time before he took up with Al Qaida and gave them such weapons.
Novak did not succeed in convincing Church leaders--in fact, some commentators reflected that his efforts might have had the opposite effect. Novak's credibility in this argument was perhaps under-mined by his employment at the American Enterprise Institute, heavily funded by oil companies, some of whom began advertising in the Houston Chronicle for employees to work in Iraq even before the war began. Administration officials denied for months that the goal of the war on Iraq was related to oil. On June 4, 2003, however, The Guardian reported the words of the U.S. deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz (one of the major architects of the war). Wolfowitz had earlier commented that the urgent reason given for the war, weapons of mass destruction, was only a "bureaucratic excuse" for war. Now, at an Asian security summit in Singapore he has declared openly that the real reason for the war was oil: "Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defense minister said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."
John Paul II has sought to distance the Catholic Church from George Bush's idea of the manifest Christian destiny of the United States, and especially to avoid the appearance of a clash of Christian civilization against Islam. Zenit reported that in his Easter Sunday message this year John Paul II "implored for the world's deliverance from the peril of the tragic clash between cultures and religions." The Pope also sent his message to terrorists: "Let there be an end to the chain of hatred and terrorism which threatens the orderly development of the human family." As he had done in his invitation to religious leaders from many faiths to Assisi at the beginning of 2002, he reached out again to leaders of other religions: "May faith and love of God make the followers of every religion courageous builders of under-standing and forgiveness, patient weavers of a fruitful inter-religious dialogue, capable of inaugurating a new era of justice and peace."
Catholic World News quoted the Latin-rite Bishop of Baghdad, Bishop Jean-Benjamin Sleimaan as saying in the Italian daily La Repubblica that the Pope's high-profile opposition to a war on Iraq has helped to avoid a sort of Manichaeism that would set up an opposition between the West and the East, in which Christianity is linked to the West and Islam to the East.
While the Iraqi War II turned out to be "short," violations of "just war" principles abounded. Bombing included such targets as an open market and a hotel where the world's journalists were staying. While most television and newspaper reports in the United States minimized coverage of deaths and injuries to the Iraqi people, reports of many civilian casualties did come out. CBS news reported on April 7 stories of civilians pouring into hospitals in Baghdad, threatening to over-whelm medical staff, and the damage inflicted by bombs which targeted homes: "The old, the young, men and women alike, no one has been spared. One hospital reported receiving 175 wounded by midday. A crater is all that remains of four families and their homes-obliterated by a massive bomb that dropped from the sky without warning in the middle afternoon." The Canadian press carried a Red Cross report of "incredible" levels of civilian casualties from Nasiriyah, of a truckload of dismembered women and children arriving at the hospital in Hilla from that village, their deaths the result of "bombs, projectiles."
As talk escalated about a U. S. attack on Iraq, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, began stating unequivocally that "The concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. His comments had been published as early as September 2002 and were repeated several times as war seemed imminent.
Cardinal Ratzinger recommended that the three religions who share a heritage from Abraham return to the Ten Commandments to counteract the violence of terrorism and war: "The Decalogue is not the private property of Christians or Jews. It is a lofty expression of moral reason that, as such, is also found in the wisdom of other cultures. To refer again to the Decalogue might be essential precisely to restore reason."
Preparation of a new shorter, simpler version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will soon begin and, according to reports and interviews with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, it will probably include revisions to clarify the section on just war, as the official version has done against capital punishment in a civilized society. Cardinal Ratzinger will head up the Commission to write the new catechism. In an interview with Zenit on May 2, 2003, the Cardinal restated the position of the Holy Father on the Iraq war (II) and on the question of the possibility of a just war in today's world.: "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'"
In almost every one of his addresses to groups large or small and in each visit to other countries, such as his recent visit to Spain, John Paul II has cried out for peace.
At the Ash Wednesday Mass this year the Pope reemphasized the theme that peace comes with justice: "There will be no peace on earth while the oppression of peoples, injustices and economic imbalances, which still exist, endure." He insisted that changes in structures, economic and otherwise, must come from conversion of hearts: "But for the desired structural changes to take place, external initiatives and interventions are not enough; what is needed above all is a joint conversion of hearts to love."
In his Easter message the Holy Father drew attention not only to the Iraq War, but to "the forgotten wars and protracted hostilities that are causing deaths and injuries amid silence and neglect on the part of considerable sectors of public opinion." The official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano carried the Pope's Easter message of peace with a headline in very large letters, Pace (peace), taking up a quarter of a page. He has asked Catholics to pray and do penance and ask Christ for peace, a peace "founded on the solid pillars of love and justice, truth and freedom."
Mark and Louise Zwick
Casa Juan Diego
P. O Box 70113
Houston, Texas 77270
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Casa Juan Diego was founded in 1980, following the Catholic Worker model of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, to serve immigrants and refugees. From one small house it has grown to fifteen houses. Casa Juan Diego publishes a newspaper, the Houston Catholic Worker, to share the stories of the immigrants and refugees and the values of the Catholic Worker movement.
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Iraq, War, Pope John Paul, Zwick
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