Signs of the Times

Papal Envoy Says Events Proved Vatican Right About Iraqi War

Seven months after he tried to convince President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq, Cardinal Pio Laghi, papal envoy, said events have proved the Vatican right about the consequences of war and the difficulties of consolidating peace. Cardinal Laghi recounted in detail his meeting last March with Bush and other White House officials in a talk on Oct. 4 at a conference on God and the Meeting of Civilizations at the monastic center of Camaldoli in central Italy.

In March, three weeks before the United States launched its offensive against Iraq, Pope John Paul II sent Cardinal Laghi, a former ambassador to the United States, to plead the case against war with Bush and his aides, but the cardinal said he did not feel his arguments were given much weight. I had the impression they had already made their decision, Cardinal Laghi said. Today, as U.S. and allied forces try to resolve vast problems in Iraq, events have shown that the worries of the Holy See were well-founded, he added.


Cardinal Laghi said that when he sat down to talk with Bush on March 5 the president began expounding the reasons for war at length, until the cardinal interrupted to say: I did not come here only to listen, but also to ask you to listen. Bush listened to the cardinal, but raised objections to the Vatican’s moral arguments against use of force, its rejection of preventive war and its warnings about the practical consequences for Iraqis and others.

When Bush said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was training members of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, Cardinal Laghi said he asked him: Are you sure? Where is the evidence? Cardinal Laghi also questioned the administration’s conviction that Iraq possessed and was ready to use weapons of mass destruction. But Bush had no doubt that he was right, the cardinal said. The president acted almost as if he were divinely inspired and seemed to truly believe in a war of good against evil, Cardinal Laghi said.

We spoke a long time about the consequences of a war. I asked: Do you realize what you’ll unleash inside Iraq by occupying it?’ The disorder, the conflicts between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurdseverything that has in fact happened, the cardinal said. Bush insisted that democracy would be the main result.

At the end of the encounter, Cardinal Laghi recounted, Bush said that although they disagreed about many points, at least they held common positions on the defense of human life and opposition to human cloning. The cardinal replied that those issues were not the purpose of his mission.

On his way out of the White House, Cardinal Laghi said his sense that Bush and his aides had already made up their minds to attack Iraq was confirmed when a Marine general came up to him, shook his hand and said: Your Eminence, don’t worry. What we’re going to do, we will do quickly and well. Three weeks later, air strikes and the ground campaign against Iraq began.

The cardinal said that, in the end, the pope and the church did not appear to have much influence on the decision to go to war or even in prompting a deeper reflection on the issues. But to a wider global audience, he said, the church made the point that it was committed to peace. Cardinal Laghi said that in making his case to Bush he was guided by the pope’s statements on Iraq and those of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In a paper submitted to the conference, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh detailed the response of U.S. bishops to the terrorist attacks and to the military response that followed. Bishop Wuerl said, however, that the bishops’ moral voice had been weakened by the scandal of clerical sexual abuse in the United States and the scandal’s spectacular exploitation by the media.

As a faith community the church in the United States had never experienced such a scandal or been the object of such intense media coverage and in too many instances manipulation of the story, he said. In spite of the scandal, the bishops have continued to speak out as a voice of moral authority. However, it is only fair to say that that moral authority has been diminished by the scandal, he said.

Pope Meets Anglican Archbishop

In his first meeting with Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, the new head of the Anglican Communion, Pope John Paul II expressed concern that ecumenical relations face new tensions as Anglicans consider the implications of the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the United States. In his speech on Oct. 4 to the archbishop, the pope said, As we give thanks for the progress that has already been made, we must also recognize that new and serious difficulties have arisen on the path to unity. These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature, he said. Some extend to essential matters of faith and morals.

Archbishop Williams said the decision of the U.S. Episcopal Church to ordain an openly gay bishop is a serious and potentially divisive question, because it touches matters about the interpretation of the authority of Scripture and also the sense we give to the reception of Christian tradition. The Catholic Church’s concern will be communicated to the 38 Anglican primates who will meet on Oct. 15-16 to discuss ways to preserve the unity of their church, he said.

At the press conference, Archbishop Williams and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said their meeting on Oct. 3 included a serious discussion of the problems that could arise if the Anglican Communion moves away from traditional Christian teaching against homosexual activity.

Cardinal Kasper told Vatican Radio he had expressed his concern to the archbishop about the ordination of priests who are practicing homosexuals, because it has an impact not only within the Anglican Communion, but is a problem which touches our relationship. In fact, he said, we have a clear position, which is that expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that homosexual activity is a sin. I expressed my desire, my hope that he is able to find a solution which is acceptable to the Anglican Communion and which will not have repercussions on relations with our church, the cardinal said.

Before the press conference, the cardinal was asked why Vatican reaction against the ordination of a gay bishop was conveyed in private conversations, unlike the public papal letters and statements sent in the mid-1970’s regarding the ordination of women priests in Anglican communities and in the mid-1990’s opposing the ordination of women bishops. The ordination of women was an institutional decision which would be very hard to change, he said, but the appointment of one bishop, that’s different.

Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Williams emphasized that the issue of homosexual bishops and priests did not dominate the archbishop’s first visit to Rome. Rather, they said, it was an opportunity to celebrate new friendships in the context of growing Catholic-Anglican sharing forged over the past 40 years.

Ukrainian Cardinals Join Appeal Against Religious Legislation

Ukraine’s two cardinals have joined other Christian leaders in an appeal to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly against new legislation to restrict religious activity. These amendments are plainly unjust in a pluralistic democracy, said Auxiliary Bishop Marian Buczek of Lviv, Ukraine. If we hope to be part of Europe, all faiths must be free, especially traditional ones like the Catholic Church. The bishop spoke after a joint appeal by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders called on the assembly to determine if the Ukrainian government-backed amendments meet European standards and requirements. Grouping more than 600 representatives from 44 national parliaments in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly can issue guidelines to governments and legislatures in response to local appeals from around the continent, as well as recommendations, resolutions and orders to European institutions. Although not legally binding, its decisions carry moral force and can be backed up with requests for sanctions and interventions by the Council of Europe, if national bodies fail to comply.

News Briefs

The Federal Communications Commission proposed a $357,000 fine against Infinity Broadcasting for its publicity stunt last year with the broadcast of a couple allegedly having sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Bishop Victor B. Galeone of St. Augustine has revoked an invitation to Episcopal leaders to use a Catholic church in Jacksonville, Fla., for the consecration of a new bishop. The offer was withdrawn after Bishop Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church and the planned presider at the consecration, defended same-sex unions based on love, forgiveness, grace in an interview on Sept. 29.

Liberian Archbishop Michael Francis said that it is deplorable that the United States has withdrawn its troops from Liberia before civil conflict has been completely quelled and order restored. The conflict, the humanitarian crisis and the terror are still here.

Bernard P. Knoth, S.J., resigned as president of Loyola University New Orleans on Oct. 7 after his Jesuit superior decided that a complaint alleging sexual misconduct at a Jesuit high school in the 1980’s was credible and removed him from ministry.

Pope John Paul II has named Italian Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, 68, who has been the Vatican ambassador to Germany since 1995, to be the secretary for relations with states in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford has been named by Pope John Paul II to head the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican office that deals with matters of conscience involving the sacrament of penance and procedural issues concerning indulgences.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

 10.17.2018 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2018
Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018