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Vatican Backs Efforts to Prevent Iraq War, Disarm Saddam

With diplomatic moves and moral encouragement, the Vatican backed international efforts in mid-February to prevent a new war in Iraq and promote the country’s peaceful disarmament. Meanwhile, Catholic leaders and organizations joined a growing antiwar movement that stretched across the globe and spilled onto the streets of major cities on every continent.

After sending a personal envoy to confer with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, Pope John Paul II met privately with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz at the Vatican on Feb. 14 and asked Iraq for “concrete commitments” to respect U.N. disarmament resolutions. The Vatican said the talks underscored “the danger of an armed intervention in Iraq, which would add further grave sufferings for those populations which are already tried by long years of embargo.”

Aziz, a Catholic of the Chaldean rite, also spoke with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state, and Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s equivalent of foreign minister. The Vatican said Aziz assured the church leaders “of the Iraqi government’s willingness to cooperate with the international community, particularly in regard to disarmament.” Aziz said he told the pope that a Western-led war against Iraq would provoke negative reaction in the Arab Muslim world and “poison” Christian-Muslim relations.

The Vatican’s top official for interreligious dialogue agreed, warning that military action against Iraq risks being interpreted by the Muslim world as a Western war on Islam. In a Feb. 16 interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said an Iraqi war also might provoke retaliatory attacks against minority Christian communities in Muslim countries.

On Feb. 15, the papal envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray met with Saddam Hussein for an hour and a half and delivered a papal message to the Iraqi leader. Cardinal Etchegaray later said the talks covered “concrete issues,” but he would not elaborate. “I am convinced that Saddam Hussein wants to avoid war,” Cardinal Etchegaray told reporters in Baghdad. “He seems seriously aware of the responsibility he faces with regard to his people.” The cardinal said everything should be done to help end the international isolation of Iraq and the suffering of its people. He called war the “worst solution” to the Iraqi crisis.

According to Iraqi TV, Saddam Hussein told Cardinal Etchegaray that some Western powers “want to attack us only because we are Muslim.” The Iraqi leader denied Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. During his six-day visit to Iraq, Cardinal Etchegaray visited Catholic communities and presided over liturgies in Baghdad and the northern city of Mossul.

Vatican officials said that while the Christian minority in Iraq has constitutional protections, the 12-year economic embargo against the country and the prospects of a new war have led many Catholics to leave. In Baghdad, the number of Catholics has shrunk since 1991 to 175,000 from 500,000.

At the Vatican, the Iraqi crisis was on the pope’s mind throughout the week. In a meeting on Feb. 13 with Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni and other Jewish leaders in Rome, the pope said it was important for Christians and Jews to pray for peace at a time when “the dangerous rumblings of war can be heard.”

Pope John Paul II and Vatican officials met U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and held out hope for “effective solutions” that would spare Iraqi civilians further suffering. Even as the pope was meeting with Annan on Feb. 18, Vatican sources confirmed reports that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a strong advocate of military action against Iraq, was scheduled to meet the pope on Feb. 22.

In the United States, the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Policy, Bishop John H. Ricard, of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., reiterated that a war against Iraq would be “difficult to justify” because of a lack of evidence that the country posed an imminent danger to the United States. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said on Feb. 14 that pre-emptive use of force would create a dangerous precedent, and that a war may well have devastating effects on the civilian population. “War is not the solution,” Cardinal Mahony said. He said he was praying that world leaders would have the wisdom to “forge a new road to peace.”

French and Scottish bishops, meanwhile, joined the growing number of bishops’ conferences that have cautioned against a war on Iraq. The French bishops said on Feb. 10 that France’s citizens and political leaders did not support a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. “Admitting the legitimacy of waging ‘preventive wars’ against all the regimes which displease us and oppress their people would be to plunge the world into fire and blood,” said the permanent council of the bishops’ conference, headed by Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard.

The Scottish bishops said on Feb. 12 that they were concerned by perceptions that a war against Iraq was inevitable, despite the lack of evidence that would justify an invasion.

Legislation and Tales of Woe Invigorate Social Ministers

Welfare funding is in danger, while demand for services is up; a war may be looming; budgets are shrinking; terrorism threats grow more vivid by the day. To hear about these issues, more than 540 people traveled to Washington for the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. The conference is co-sponsored by 15 national organizations ranging from Catholic Charities USA and various offices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Catholic Partnership on Disability and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

The gathering began on Feb. 7 with meetings of diocesan directors of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, built up to an afternoon of lobbying visits to Congress and concluded on Feb. 12 with a luncheon panel where political pundits put some of the week’s issues into perspective. In between, there were meetings of groups involved with criminal justice, rural life, environmental justice and higher education.

Workshop and plenary sessions included speakers on the topics of tax relief for low-income families, welfare reauthorization, the conflict with Iraq, global poverty, the labor movement, health care, AIDS and other global health concerns, nuclear morality and famine in Africa. Skills workshops addressed fund-raising, leadership development, interfaith social action and using Web sites for social justice. Speakers and homilists included several bishops, two U.S. senators and a member of the British Parliament, academics and policy makers, as well as many people who run diocesan or national social ministry programs.

Attendees said the annual gathering gives them a dose of energy for working in the church’s social mission, which they said can be an overwhelming task. “It’s kind of an energizer—to affirm that we can still make a difference,” one said.

The participants make a difference, pointed out John Carr, secretary of social development and world peace for the U.S.C.C.B., whose staff does the main organizing for the conference. In a talk in which he outlined many of the challenges facing social ministry, he also noted that many of the people in the room helped make the jubilee year campaign for debt relief a success in 2000. Grass-roots lobbying was key to persuading the governments of the United States and other nations to forgive billions of dollars of foreign debt that was strangling the economies of struggling nations, he reminded them.

“Even in these tough times we can make a difference,” Carr said. A refundable children’s tax credit, restoring food stamp eligibility for legal immigrants and expanding the state children’s health program were all previous subjects of annual lobbying for the conference participants, he said. All were eventually enacted.

News Briefs

• Sacred Space, the Irish Jesuits’ online prayer site (www.sacredspace.ie), launched nine days of prayer for world peace on Feb. 23. Sacred Space has had almost six million visits since 1999 and is now translated into 15 languages, including Japanese, Catalan and Latvian. The site’s organizer, Alan McGuckian, S.J., said, “Many thousands of people pray at Sacred Space each day and the feedback from all over the world says that they want to be part of a world-wide prayer for peace.”

• Bets are being taken on the next papal election at www.paddypower-.com, an Irish betting site that posts odds that range from 4-1 to 20-1 on 15 cardinals. The favorite is Francis Arinze (4-1) followed by Giacomo Biffi and Dionigi Tettamanzi (both 6-1). Joseph Ratzinger is 12-1 and Carlo Martini is 14-1.

• The South African bishops said they were disappointed at President Mbeki’s treatment of the AIDS pandemic and the Zimbabwe crisis. According to U.N. figures, 20 percent of the adult population is H.I.V.-positive. The bishops’ conference urged the South African government to intervene in Zimbabwe, which the bishops said is on the brink of civil war with “increasing levels of organized state terror.”

• Catholic colleges and universities should not be allowing campus productions of the “The Vagina Monologues,” a controversial play about female sexuality, said Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society. “This kind of vulgarity has no academic or social value to students at a Catholic college, and it’s spiritually destructive.” He criticized the 42 Catholic colleges where campus performances of the play were scheduled to be held in February and March.

The play, described as “a celebration of female sexuality in all its complexity and mystery,” features women who literally represent vaginas that speak out in a series of monologues. Early performances of the play were criticized for a positive portrayal of the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl by a 24-year-old woman, but those sections of the script have been revised for campus productions.

Comments

Deborah A. Wells | 3/14/2003 - 3:54pm
I read with great discouragement, the article in News Briefs (3/3), about the Newman Society’s criticism of Catholic college and university campus productions of “The Vagina Monologues.” In my opinion the “academic and social value” that it brings is that it is an organized response to bring attention to the problem of worldwide violence against women and girls. These campus productions are meant to raise consciousness specifically about the crimes of rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery abuses.

All of the campus productions are benefit performances with the proceeds being donated to local charities that stand for anti-violence. My own alma mater donated its proceeds to a shelter for battered women that provides 13,000 nights of shelter each year to victims of domestic violence. From reading the play program, I learned that 75% of all 911 calls are domestic abuse calls and it is estimated that 48% of all domestic violence occurrences are not even reported to the police!

For the rest of the play, I think it gives women a voice, voices that are too often silenced or ignored – beneath burka’s in some countries. The play articulated the experience of womanhood, boldly at times, this is true; but it only proclaimed out-loud the same things we know deep down and have learned not to mention. I’m sorry if Mr. Reilly can’t relate to any of that, but it doesn’t mean that at least half of the human race can’t. Quite frankly, parts of the play were also steeped in humor.

The president of the Newman Society went on to say that this play is “spiritually destructive.” However, my personal experience was very different. One week after viewing the performance I was sitting in a chapel and praying The Stations of the Cross. When I came to the 10th Station – Jesus is Stripped of His Garments, I reflected that He stood for all the women who have been stripped, humiliated, exposed, slapped and disgraced; and all the women stand for Him. That spiritually enlightening moment was an absolute connection to having been an audience member only days before.

It is right to educate our young people about the male-dominated violence of this social sin. The current revelations at the Air Force Academy have shown the gravity of this problem. Since one out of four women nationally will be the victim of abuse at the hands of an intimate partner during their lifetime, we should be doing everything in our power on our Catholic college and university campuses to be certain that this type of behavior is brought to light and rooted out, so that young women who have come to be educated will feel safe in their dormitories, on dates and at the parties they attend. And that the young men who come to be educated will understand the seriousness of this issue, their own implication in it and will decide to stop the violence for theirs and the next generation.

Deborah A. Wells | 3/14/2003 - 3:54pm
I read with great discouragement, the article in News Briefs (3/3), about the Newman Society’s criticism of Catholic college and university campus productions of “The Vagina Monologues.” In my opinion the “academic and social value” that it brings is that it is an organized response to bring attention to the problem of worldwide violence against women and girls. These campus productions are meant to raise consciousness specifically about the crimes of rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery abuses.

All of the campus productions are benefit performances with the proceeds being donated to local charities that stand for anti-violence. My own alma mater donated its proceeds to a shelter for battered women that provides 13,000 nights of shelter each year to victims of domestic violence. From reading the play program, I learned that 75% of all 911 calls are domestic abuse calls and it is estimated that 48% of all domestic violence occurrences are not even reported to the police!

For the rest of the play, I think it gives women a voice, voices that are too often silenced or ignored – beneath burka’s in some countries. The play articulated the experience of womanhood, boldly at times, this is true; but it only proclaimed out-loud the same things we know deep down and have learned not to mention. I’m sorry if Mr. Reilly can’t relate to any of that, but it doesn’t mean that at least half of the human race can’t. Quite frankly, parts of the play were also steeped in humor.

The president of the Newman Society went on to say that this play is “spiritually destructive.” However, my personal experience was very different. One week after viewing the performance I was sitting in a chapel and praying The Stations of the Cross. When I came to the 10th Station – Jesus is Stripped of His Garments, I reflected that He stood for all the women who have been stripped, humiliated, exposed, slapped and disgraced; and all the women stand for Him. That spiritually enlightening moment was an absolute connection to having been an audience member only days before.

It is right to educate our young people about the male-dominated violence of this social sin. The current revelations at the Air Force Academy have shown the gravity of this problem. Since one out of four women nationally will be the victim of abuse at the hands of an intimate partner during their lifetime, we should be doing everything in our power on our Catholic college and university campuses to be certain that this type of behavior is brought to light and rooted out, so that young women who have come to be educated will feel safe in their dormitories, on dates and at the parties they attend. And that the young men who come to be educated will understand the seriousness of this issue, their own implication in it and will decide to stop the violence for theirs and the next generation.