Signs of the Times

Vatican Signals Wider, Qualified Support for U.S. Military Action

As Pope John Paul II made a four-day visit to Central Asia, the Vatican appeared to signal a wider—though still qualified—margin of support for eventual U.S. military action against terrorists around the globe.

The pope’s own pronouncements during his stay in Kazakhstan on Sept. 22-25 were consistent with his previous warnings against retaliation taken in “vengeance” or any armed intervention that could deepen divisions in the world. But statements by papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls indicated that the Vatican would understand if the United States decided to go after terrorists in “self-defense,” especially if it meant warding off future attacks.


His remarks illustrated a concern voiced privately by Vatican officials in recent days, that the pope not be seen as a pacifist who rules out any use of force in the protection of individuals or nations against ruthless perpetrators of evil. They also showed that the Vatican views the need to combat terrorism in a different category from previous U.S.-led war efforts, such as the Persian Gulf war of 1991 or the war against Yugoslavia in 1999.

In an interview on Sept. 24 with the British news agency Reuters, Navarro-Valls said the pope understands the “difficulties of a political leader who has to respond to such issues” in the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. “It is certain that if someone has done great harm to society, and there is a danger that if he remains free he may be able to do it again, you have the right to apply self-defense for the society which you lead, even though the means you may choose may be aggressive,” Navarro-Valls said.

“Sometimes it is more prudent to act rather than to be passive. In this sense, the pope is not a pacifist, because one must remember that in the name of peace, even some horrible injustices can be carried out,” he said. “Sometimes self-defense implies an action which may lead to the death of a person.” Navarro-Valls said that “either people who have carried out a horrendous crime are put in a position where they can do no further harm, by being handed over and put into custody, or the principle of self-defense applies with all its consequences.”

His statement appeared designed to apply to the U.S. demand that Afghanistan hand over Osama bin Laden, suspected as a guiding hand behind the suicide hijackings in the United States on Sept. 11. Navarro-Valls was careful to recall that church teaching requires that armed response be proportionate to the threat and that innocent people not be harmed in the process. He also stressed that “eventual action must be directed against terrorism and not against Islam.” But while the church places a very high value on peace, he said, “the common sometimes above it.” The important thing is that those trying to carry out justice do not end up causing another injustice, he said.

The spokesman was giving voice to a strong current of thought among Vatican officials, who do not want the pope’s frequent appeals against war to be seen as an endorsement of peace at any price—especially in the wake of the monstrous acts committed against the United States.

The sensitivity of the issue inside the Vatican was evident by the manner in which Navarro-Valls chose to make his comments. The day before, the pope told a mixed Muslim and Christian audience in Kazakhstan that “we must not let what has happened lead to a deepening of divisions” and said, “I beg God to keep the world in peace.” Especially in Central Asia, the pope’s words seemed to echo widespread apprehension about U.S. military action in the region and the potential consequences around the globe.

The Vatican spokesman waited one day, then made his carefully chosen remarks about the legitimacy of self-defense. Afterward, neither he nor other Vatican officials were available for elaboration, leaving a large corps of journalists wondering just how the Vatican position had evolved.

In the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the pope was perhaps the most vocal critic of the U.S.-led invasion that pushed Iraq out of Kuwait and pounded Iraqi targets for weeks. In the Western war against Yugoslavia, the pope frequently voiced his reservations about the heavy damage to civilians and said further negotiation should have been pursued to settle the Kosovo question. The pope has made clear that he has similar reservations about military action in countries suspected of harboring terrorists, but his spokesman has now given notice that a limited armed action against terrorism might meet with Vatican approval.

In the days that followed, Navarro-Valls tried to downplay his remarks by saying he had only been quoting “a few paragraphs from the Catholic catechism.”

The Vatican’s top ecumenical official, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who was in Armenia for the second leg of the papal trip, said that in his recent contacts with other churches there seemed to be a consensus that something must be done to counter the terrorist threat. “Every country must defend itself in a just manner,” he said. “Something has to be done, or else we will all become hostages of these terrorists.” At the same time, he said a “bloodbath” in Afghanistan must be avoided.

Supreme Court Takes Ohio School Voucher Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether school voucher programs are constitutional. In orders released on Sept. 25, the court agreed to hear three related cases challenging a Cleveland program that gives parents of about 4,000 students vouchers that they can use to pay tuition at parochial or private schools or to attend a public school outside their own district. Most of the students attend religious schools, primarily Catholic. The program provides up to $2,500 per student per year for low-income families. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled against the voucher program in December, saying it “involves the grant of state aid directly and predominantly to the coffers of the private, religious schools, and it is unquestioned that these institutions incorporate religious concepts, motives and themes into all facets of their educational planning.” The program has continued to operate while lawsuits are on appeal.

In Armenia, Pope Pays Tribute to Country’s History of Suffering

On the first day of a long-awaited visit to Armenia, Pope John Paul II paid tribute to the country’s history of suffering and joined his Orthodox hosts in a prayer for Christian unity. For centuries, “martyrdom has been the special mark of the Armenian church and the Armenian people,” the pope said at an airport arrival ceremony on Sept. 25 in Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Despite those trials, Armenians have offered an extraordinary witness of Christian life, even during the “unspeakable terror and suffering” they underwent in the 20th century, he said. Smiling but moving very slowly after four days in Kazakhstan, the 81-year-old pontiff made the trip to help celebrate 1,700 years of Christianity in Armenia, the first nation to adopt Christianity as the national religion.

A day earlier in Kazakhstan, addressing religious and cultural leaders, Pope John Paul said Christians have great respect for “authentic Islam: the Islam that prays, that is concerned for those in need.” “Recalling the errors of the past, including the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions. Hatred, fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of God and disfigure the true image of man,” he said. The pope also stood and prayed before a memorial wall that commemorates the estimated 2 million people deported to Kazakhstan under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and the hundreds of thousands who were sent to forced labor camps in the republic.

Italian Cardinals Weigh in on U.S. Reponses to Terrorism

As the United States moved toward military action against suspected terrorists, two high-profile Italian cardinals publicly weighed in on how the United States should respond to terrorism. “Involving entire populations or countries is something to be avoided at all costs” because it could lay the foundations for a broader conflict, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan said in Italian newspaper interviews on Sept. 21. “It is an extremely serious risk. I hope the Americans realize that,” he said.

Cardinal Martini praised the United States for not launching military strikes in the immediate days following the terrorist attacks at the Pentagon and in New York on Sept. 11. “Until now they have acted with great prudence, avoiding every immediate retaliation, and it seemed to me a sign of reflection, of wanting to understand,” he said. The cardinal also drew attention to the lack of evidence, at least from what authorities have made public, showing a clear link between the terrorism and Afghanistan-based Osama bin Laden. He said the fight against terrorism also must include not only “precise” measures against its perpetrators but also elimination of its underlying causes. “It is not enough to destroy the centers of terror if there is not a commitment to overcome poverty,” Cardinal Martini said.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar of Rome and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, said Italian Catholics must join the international condemnation of the terrorist attacks, a condemnation that applies to those who carried out the attacks and those who sent the terrorists, “as well as those who knowingly supported or covered them.” “The right, or rather the necessity and duty, to combat and as far as possible to neutralize international terrorism and those who, at any level, promote or defend it is beyond doubt,” the cardinal said. However, he said, such an operation must rely not only on the measured and limited use of military weapons, but also must attempt to resolve the situations that breed terrorism.

Denunciations of violent fundamentalism among some Muslim populations must not lead to “an unjust identification or confusion between the ideology of violence and of war and the Muslim religion,” the cardinal said. Cardinal Ruini also denounced what he termed a “pseudo-morality” present in many parts of the world, including some sectors of Italian society, “which tends to see in the United States the cause and synthesis of the world’s ills.” Generalizations on any side are an obstacle to building the mutual understanding the world needs to create peace, he said.

U.S. Religious Leaders Suggest Response to Terror

Catholic and other religious leaders continued to speak out on how the United States and its people should respond in the wake of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. The U.S. response to terrorism “need not arise from a backlash of anger” or retribution but out of “a reasonable obligation of immediate and long-range self-defense,” said Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. He made the comments in a pastoral letter on Sept. 19 to chaplains who serve the 1.4 million Catholics in the military worldwide.

“Our nation mobilizes for unprecedented action against worldwide terrorism,” the letter began. “It is my hope to reflect on what might lie ahead, especially as it will almost certainly involve military action.” The archbishop wrote, “We are entering a new battle, and it is probable that new moral dilemmas will arise for which there is not a pat solution. Combining the time-honored principles of just war with reason and a sensitive conscience will help us through.”

Two dozen U.S. religious leaders, including Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston and Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, met with President Bush on Sept. 20 to pray and advise him about the U.S. response. In a statement issued shortly after the White House meeting, the religious leaders said the country has “both a moral right and a grave obligation as a nation to protect the sanctity of life and the common good. We should respond not in the spirit of aggression, but as victims of aggression who must act to prevent further atrocities of terrorism.” Sound moral principles should guide the U.S. response, they said. “There is a grave obligation to protect innocent human life,” the statement said. “Because these terrorist attacks were global in their consequences, the president is correct in seeking a coordinated international response.”

Moral restraint is needed along with resolve in the U.S. campaign to end terrorism, said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, in a letter to Bush. The country has a “moral right” and “grave obligation to defend the common good” against terrorist attacks, according to the bishop. But he said U.S. actions also must be governed by the restraints of law and “sound moral principles, notably the norms of the just-war tradition.” Bishop Fiorenza’s letter, dated Sept. 19, said the nation’s bishops “pray that you will find just, effective ways to respond with resolve and restraint to the long-term task of ending terrorism.” “The warlike acts were appalling attacks not only against our nation but against all humanity,” he wrote. “Our nation, in collaboration with others, has a moral right and a grave obligation to defend the common good against such terrorist attacks.”

A statement, “Deny Them Their Victory,” signed by thousands of religious and civic leaders, some of them Catholic, urged Americans of faith to deny terrorists any claim to victory in the wake of the terrorist attacks. “We can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims,” the statement said. “We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions,” it said.

Pope’s Address to New U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

On Sept. 13, Pope John Paul II addressed these words to Jim Nicholson, the new ambassador of the United States to the Holy See.

Mr. Ambassador, I am pleased to accept the letters of credence appointing you ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Holy See.

You are beginning your mission at a moment of immense tragedy for your country. At this time of national mourning for the victims of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, I wish to assure you personally of my profound participation in the grief of the American people and of my heartfelt prayers for the president and the civil authorities, for all involved in the rescue operations and in helping the survivors, and in a special way for the victims and their families.

I pray that this inhuman act will awaken in the hearts of all the world’s peoples a firm resolve to reject the ways of violence, to combat everything that sows hatred and division within the human family, and to work for the dawn of a new era of international cooperation inspired by the highest ideals of solidarity, justice and peace.

In my recent meeting with President Bush, I emphasized my deep esteem for the rich patrimony of human, religious and moral values which have historically shaped the American character. I expressed the conviction that America’s continued moral leadership in the world depends on her fidelity to her founding principles.

Underlying your nation’s commitment to freedom, self-determination and equal opportunity are universal truths inherited from its religious roots. From these spring respect for the sanctity of life and the dignity of each human person made in the image and likeness of the creator, shared responsibility for the common good, concern for the education of young people and for the future of society, and the need for wise stewardship of the natural resources so freely bestowed by a bounteous God.

In facing the challenges of the future, America is called to cherish and live out the deepest values of her national heritage: solidarity and cooperation between peoples, respect for human rights, the justice that is the indispensable condition for authentic freedom and lasting peace.

In the century now opening before us, humanity has the opportunity to make great strides against some of its traditional enemies: poverty, disease, violence. As I said at the United Nations in 1995, it is within our grasp to see that a century of tears, the 20th century, is followed in the 21st century by a springtime of the human spirit.

The possibilities before the human family are immense, although they are not always apparent in a world in which too many of our brothers and sisters are suffering from hunger, malnutrition and the lack of access to medical care and to education, or are burdened by unjust government, armed conflict, forced displacement and new forms of human bondage.

In seizing the available opportunities, both vision and generosity are necessary, especially on the part of those who have been blessed with freedom, wealth and an abundance of resources. The urgent ethical issues raised by the division between those who benefit from the globalization of the world economy and those who are excluded from those benefits call for new and creative responses on the part of the whole international community.

Here I would emphasize again what I said in my recent meeting with President Bush, that the revolution of freedom in the world must be completed by a revolution of opportunity, which will enable all the members of the human family to enjoy a dignified existence and to share in the benefits of a truly global development.

In this context, I cannot but mention, among so many disturbing situations throughout the world, the tragic violence that continues to affect the Middle East and which seriously jeopardizes the peace process begun in Madrid. Thanks also to the commitment of the United States, that process had given rise to hope in the hearts of all those who look to the Holy Land as a unique place of encounter and prayer between peoples. I am certain that your country will not hesitate to promote a realistic dialogue that will enable the parties involved to achieve security, justice and peace, in full respect for human rights and international law.

Mr. Ambassador, the vision and the moral strength that America is being challenged to exercise at the beginning of a new century and in a rapidly changing world call for an acknowledgment of the spiritual roots of the crisis which the Western democracies are experiencing, a crisis characterized by the advance of a materialistic, utilitarian and ultimately dehumanized worldview which is tragically detached from the moral foundations of Western civilization.

In order to survive and prosper, democracy and its accompanying economic and political structures must be directed by a vision whose core is the God-given dignity and inalienable rights of every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death.

When some lives, including those of the unborn, are subjected to the personal choices of others, no other value or right will long be guaranteed, and society will inevitably be governed by special interests and convenience. Freedom cannot be sustained in a cultural climate that measures human dignity in strictly utilitarian terms. Never has it been more urgent to reinvigorate the moral vision and resolve essential to maintaining a just and free society.

In this context my thoughts turn to America’s young people, the hope of the nation. In my pastoral visits to the United States, and above all in my visit to Denver in 1993 for the celebration of World Youth Day, I was able personally to witness the reserves of generosity and goodwill present in the youth of your country. Young people are surely your nation’s greatest treasure. That is why they urgently need an all-round education which will enable them to reject cynicism and selfishness and to grow into their full stature as informed, wise and morally responsible members of the community. At the beginning of a new millennium, young people must be given every opportunity to take up their role as craftsmen of a new humanity, where brothers and sistersmembers all of the same familyare able at last to live in peace (Message for the 2001 World Day of Peace, No. 22).

Mr. Ambassador, as you begin your mission as your country’s representative to the Holy See, I reiterate my hope that in facing the challenges of the present and future, the American people will draw upon the deep spiritual and moral resources which have inspired and guided the nation’s growth and which remain the surest pledge of its greatness.

I am confident that America’s Catholic community, which has historically played a crucial role in the education of a responsible citizenry and in the relief of the poor, the sick and the needy, will be actively present in the process of discerning the shape of your country’s future course. Upon you and your family and all the American people I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

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