Addressing the United Nations, a leading Vatican official said the war in Iraq did not make the world safer and that defeating terrorism will require multilateral cooperation that goes beyond short-term military operations. Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s top foreign affairs official, made the remarks on Sept. 29 in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly. Archbishop Lajolo offered a far-ranging review of Vatican positions on peace and justice issues, saying global poverty must be the number one priority for the United Nations and all international agencies. The urgency of the situation cannot tolerate delay, he said. He noted that hundreds of millions of people are living below the threshold of what is necessary, and tens of millions of children are undernourished.
Turning to Iraq, Archbishop Lajolo said the Vatican’s opposition to military action in Iraq in 2002-3 was well known. Everyone can see that it did not lead to a safer world either inside or outside Iraq, he said. Under the present circumstance, he added, the Vatican believes it is imperative to support the provisional Iraqi government as it tries to bring the country to normality and establish a political system that is substantially democratic and in harmony with the values of its historic traditions.
He called terrorism an aberrant phenomenon, utterly unworthy of man, which today threatens all countries. While every nation has the right to protect its citizens, he said, it seems obvious that terrorism can only be effectively challenged through a concerted multilateral approach...and not through the politics of unilateralism.
No one is in any doubt that the fight against terrorism means, first and foremost, neutralizing its active breeding grounds. But the underlying causes are many and complex: political, social, cultural, religious, he said; for that reason, even more important is long-term action directed at terrorism’s roots and designed to stop it from spreading.
Archbishop Lajolo addressed several other major international issues:
On disarmament, he called for severe and effective international controls on the production and sale of conventional weapons. He praised U.N. efforts to date, but said huge economic interests remain as obstacles. Weapons of mass destruction and their possible use represent a separate problem, the archbishop said. But he reminded the assembly that conventional weapons are being used in numerous armed conflicts that stain the world in blood and in terrorism.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he said, will require not only justice but also mutual forgiveness, which requires greater courage than the use of weapons. He called for a return to the road map peace plan, which has been formally accepted by both parties.
Conflicts in Sudan, Somalia, the Great Lakes region of Africa, Ivory Coast and elsewhere call for greater international attention and authoritative intervention by the African Union, he said.
The right to life has special application in the issue of human cloning, Archbishop Lajolo said. The United Nations is scheduled to debate it this fall. The archbishop reiterated the Vatican’s call for a comprehensive ban on human cloning, saying that the Vatican supports procurement of adult stem cells, as opposed to cells taken from human embryos.
Archbishop Lajolo also raised the question of U.N. internal reform aimed at increasing its peacekeeping effectiveness around the world. In general, he said, the United Nations needs more room to operate before conflicts begin. He suggested that the United Nations be given special prerogatives to facilitate action to prevent conflicts at times of international crisis, and also, when absolutely necessary, humanitarian intervention’that is, action aimed at disarming the aggressor.Corruption, Politics Weaken Democracies
Many democracies in Latin America are weakened by corruption and partisan politics, said the Latin American bishops’ council. These are main factors in the region’s growing poverty and in the lack of government emphasis on national development programs, said the Bogotá-based council. We are experiencing forms of democracy and opportunities for freedom which in no way are the democracy we want nor the freedom we aspire to, said the document. Corruption and partisan interests have led us to a loss of leadership and a progressive deterioration of the confidence people have in their political institutions, it said.
The five-page document was issued after a church-sponsored symposium on ethics, politics and economics in the countries of the Andean region of South America. The symposium, held in Quito, Ecuador, on Sept. 13-17, was organized by the bishops’ council, known by its Spanish acronym CELAM.
The document criticized government leaders who have incurred huge foreign debts while draining domestic financial resources. The document called for legal action against government leaders who incurred these debts without consulting the public and through corruption. The debt is being paid at the cost of the bread, health and education of our citizens, it said. Continued efforts are needed for total or significant reduction of foreign debts so that the money can be channeled to domestic development. It also criticized governments that negotiated international free trade agreements without widespread popular consultation.
For Latin America, globalization often has meant sharing such environmental risks as global warming, deterioration of the ozone layer and the siphoning off of energy resources, according to the document. Millions of acres of tropical forests in Latin American and the Caribbean have been stripped to satisfy the demand for wood and paper in the developed world, it said. In the course of a lifetime, people in the industrialized world consume and contaminate 30 to 50 times more than people in the underdeveloped world, the bishops’ statement said.Iranian Catholics Free, but Keep Low Profile
The repression and fear that accompanied the first years of the Islamic Revolution in Iran have abated, but it seems no one is fully convinced that there is smooth sailing ahead for Catholics in that country. Iran’s Catholic bishops declined to be interviewed by Catholic News Service in September, and Vatican officials and priests in Rome familiar with the life of the Iranian Catholic communities were willing to speak with reporters but not to be named.
In conversations with five people at the Vatican and in Iran, the general impression given was that reforms in Iran under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami have benefited Catholics, but that it is still prudent to keep a low profile.
We’ve survived through discretion, one priest said. I’m sorry we’re so careful, he said. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you just never know.
Iranian Christians and members of other religious minorities report discrimination in employment and in university admissions, because the admission exams include tests on knowledge of Islam. But they also believe that security forces keep track of who enters a church, temple or synagogue for servicesa charge denied by the government. Conversion from Islam is illegal in Iran.
The Vatican’s statistical yearbook reported that at the end of 2002, there were about 25,000 Latin rite, Chaldean and Armenian Catholics in Iran. A Vatican official said, however, that the figure was very optimistic. We believe there are about 10,000 Catholics out of about 150,000 Christians in Iran. The number of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran is shrinking each year. The U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom, released on Sept. 15, cited a U.N. study that said, Christians are emigrating at an estimated rate of 15,000 to 20,000 per year.News Briefs
Increasing violence against Christians in northern Iraq has alarmed church leaders and prompted thousands of Catholics to flee the country, the Vatican missionary news agency Fides reported.
The question of what happens to babies who die without being baptized was discussed at the meeting in Rome on Oct. 4-8 of the International Theological Commission.
The resignation of Bishop Kurt Krenn of Sankt Pölten, Austria, who has been plagued by a pornography scandal at his diocesan seminary, was announced by the Vatican on Oct. 7. His successor is Bishop Klaus Küng of Feldkirch, Austria, a member of Opus Dei.
Five Christian communities in Qatar laid the cornerstones of their new churches on Oct. 7, providing the physical foundation of the first Christian churches in the Persian Gulf country since the seventh century. The new churches include the Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Rosary.
The Supreme Court on Oct. 4 declined to hear the appeal by Catholic Charities of Sacramento, Calif., of a ruling that would require some religious organizations to pay for employees’ contraceptive insurance benefits.
An out-of-court settlement for $1.3 million involving nine civil suits that accused the Archdiocese of Miami of negligence does not involve judgment on the guilt or innocence of archdiocesan priests accused of improper conduct with minors, said Miami’s Archbishop John C. Favalora. The agreement was reached because the settlement sum is far less than the legal expenses we have already incurred in defending the archdiocese; not to mention what the plaintiffs were originally seeking through their lawsuits, he said.
Archbishop Gennaro Verolino, a 97-year-old Vatican diplomat, was awarded the Swedish Per Anger prize for helping to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis during World War II, when he served as a diplomat in Hungary.