The Vatican and the Iraq War Revisited

The Vatican and the Iraq War Revisited December 7, 2007

This is pretty much common knowledge at this point, but it is a tale still worth telling. Before Bush’s Iraq war, a Vatican delegation led (I believe) by Cardinal Pio Laghi came to America to try and dissuade the administration from invading and occupying Iraq. They made two main points. First, there was no way the just war theory applied, especially as the threat was not imminent. Second, the Vatican’s sources stated that Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and they were pretty confident that this was the truth.

The response? The Bushies totally ignored the point on weapons of mass destruction, and instead proceeded to lecture the Vatican delegation on Michael Novak’s heterodox just war theory. The Vatican delegation left in a state of shock and disbelief. I believe, but am not certain, that Condi Rice was in the room. Kind of adds a new twist on Benedict’s refusal to meet with her this summer, no?

(This information comes from an impeccable source, who spoke to somebody on the Vatican delegation who was in the room at the time.)

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  • Oh yes, thus sayeth “St” Michael, slayer of communism.

    Surely US officials should know not to debate theology with the Vatican — and if they do, find someone better than Novak!

  • Craig

    MM, I don’t dispute any of this. I think it’s great…as far as it goes. But what can we really say about Rome’s opposition to the war when it stopped here? As much I wish there had been more, there just wasn’t. It wasn’t even loud and clear enough to be noticed by many Catholics. Yeah, we can blame some prominent US Catholics (the usual suspects) for hearing only what they wanted to hear–but when those of us who opposed the war from the start place so much stress on a few mumbled utterances and secret meetings, aren’t we doing the same thing? Please, convince me I’m wrong. I want very badly to believe the church was loud and clear on this. But that seems like a stretch.

  • I agree with you, Craig. The US bishops could been more strident in echoing the Vatican’s position. But remember the atmosphere of fear and paranoia during that time? (It’s hard to imagine today, and yet it was only a few short years ago). I personally know of priests accused of being “traitors” for having the audacity to quote Pope John Paul on the war.

  • Blackadder

    Morning’s Minion,

    I haven’t been able to find any corroboration for the claim that the Vatican or Cardinal Pio Laghi said, prior to the invasion, that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Is this one of the things you consider common knowledge, or does it come from your source?

  • Blackadder

    Also, if it’s true that the U.S. Bishops didn’t speak out on the war because they were afraid of being called names, then that really is contemptible. The “atmosphere of fear and paranoia” at the time didn’t stop tens of millions of people from expressing anti-invasion views. A Bishop should be willing to lay down his very life for the truth if it comes to that. If they (apparently) don’t even have the courage of an average American, then that is pretty pathetic.

  • BA

    If you have not read it, I think what Botean said when he was awarded the Saint Marcellus Award in 2003 is significant, and discusses the concern of where the Church in the US is and why it seems to be silent on important issues:

    http://www.catholicpeacefellowship.org/nextpage.asp?m=2123

    He calls is like he sees it:

    “But it is the presence of you young people, the flower of the Catholic Church in the United States, that I find most moving this evening. I believe I am experiencing something of the awe and joy that I have heard in the voice of the Holy Father, as I believe many of you have, as well, on the many occasions at which he has addressed the Church’s youth. So it is easy for me this evening to make his often repeated exhortation to you, my own, and urge you, “do not be satisfied with mediocrity.” Do not be satisfied with mediocrity in the Church, and do not be satisfied with mediocrity in yourselves.”

    “If the Church does not protect its youth from the spiritual, moral, psychological, emotional and physical destruction of being forced to kill unjustly – in other words, being forced to commit murder – who will protect them? What is left of the just-war Catholic adolescent’s conscience, soul, psyche, emotional structure, etc., if he or she is forced into the situation of being legally ordered to kill another human being (whose killing the Catholic boy or girl believes to be unjust) when such a Catholic boy or girl has no legal recourse by which to say no? Prison, or desertion, or fleeing to another country, or martyrdom, etc., are, of course, options. In fact, they are the only options presently available under U.S. law for Catholic youth who have been formed in and have accepted Catholic just-war theory as a standard of conscience.”

  • TeutonicTim

    If Saddam had told the Vatican he didn’t have weapons, and he did indeed would the Vatican have the intelligence resources to figure it out on their own? It’s not like Saddam or Iran are pinnacles of honesty and you can hardly take them for their word. After all, it is an accepted muslim practice to lie to the infidels (that would be us, by the way) to further the jihad or spread of islam

    I’m all for listening and using reasoning, but the fact remains that Saddam did in ffact USE chemical weapons. If he actually used them it means he had them at one point. If he had them at one point, it probably means he saved some of them.

  • jonathanjones02

    If you want to label Michael Novak heterodox, it seems to me proper to lay aside the pot-shots and quick labeling and bring the substance behind the charge.

  • Craig

    TT:
    We knew he had chemical weapons, as we still have the receipts! (of course, we waited 8 years to object to his use of them.)
    If you recall, though, there were many sources before the most recent Iraq war saying Saddam didn’t have weapons. Nobody here is saying we should’ve been content merely with Saddam’s own denials.

  • Blackadder

    Henry,

    Not only have I read it, I was actually at the Catholic Peace Fellowship conference where he was given the Saint Marcellus award, and heard him give the speech. He is quite an impressive fellow.

  • BA

    Nice; I’ve always found him to be impressive as well. So many people overlook him because of how small the Romanian Catholic population is in the US.

  • They made two main points. First, there was no way the just war theory applied, especially as the threat was not imminent. Second, the Vatican’s sources stated that Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and they were pretty confident that this was the truth.

    It seems to me that the WMD was never a very good justification for the Iraq war. The best reason for finally getting rid of the Baathist regime was the need to finish off the work that was (very wrongly) left undone back in ’91. Hussein’s continued chinanigans kept huge numbers of US troops tied up in the Middle East, he continued to take occasional pot shots at our planes, and the attempt to render him harmless via embargo had simply resulted in massive suffering by innocent civilians (and massive corruption in the UN).

    That’s why I supported the Iraq war at the time, and continue to support it.

    Now, from a Vatican point of view there continues to be a rather sticky situation in regards to that as well, in that John Paul II spoke out repeatedly against the original Gulf War, even though liberating an invaded country is pretty clearly a just war situation.

    It seems to me that the Vatican reaction there underlines that many of the generation of priests who were young during WW2 (John Paul II and Benedict XVI clearly being examples) are functionally pacifist, and as such will always make the prudential judgment that the good likely to come of a particular military intervention will always be outweighed by the evils resulting from it. That is certainly is a valid conclusion based on Catholic just war teaching, but I’m not convinced that it is the only possible conclusion — indeed the history of Church actions would seem to underline that it is not the only possible conclusion.

  • TeutonicTim says: “After all, it is an accepted muslim practice to lie to the infidels (that would be us, by the way) to further the jihad or spread of islam”

    It’s accepted political practice to lie to everyone if you can get away with it. Saddam’s WMD program was a decoy operation to dupe Iran. Surely some smart fellow could have pressed for this interpretation, if there wasn’t already a decision to go to war.

    Darwin says: “the attempt to render him harmless via embargo had simply resulted in massive suffering by innocent civilians”

    Wouldn’t this justify lifting or reconfiguring the embargo, rather than all-out war?

    Come to think of it, strict embargoes are against the spirit of the neo-cons’ favorite line in Centissimus Annus against excluding people from the mechanisms of production and exchange.

  • If you want to label Michael Novak heterodox, it seems to me proper to lay aside the pot-shots and quick labeling and bring the substance behind the charge.

    Me! Me! Me! I would gladly volunteer for this. I just need to finish my semester so I can write something that would be worth reading.

  • [DarwinCatholic] It seems to me that the WMD was never a very good justification for the Iraq war. The best reason for finally getting rid of the Baathist regime was the need to finish off the work that was (very wrongly) left undone back in ‘91.

    Michael Novak made a twofold argument based on the threat of WMD’s AND the obligation to enforce U.N. resolutions that Saddam had consistently flouted for 12 years.

    John Paul II spoke out repeatedly against the original Gulf War, even though liberating an invaded country is pretty clearly a just war situation.

    Can anybody clarify why this was the case?

    [Morning’s Minion]: the Vatican’s sources stated that Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and they were pretty confident that this was the truth.

    And the Vatican could corroborate this how?

    Kind of adds a new twist on Benedict’s refusal to meet with her this summer, no?

    Nice spin, MM, considering the Vatican has specifically rejected the characterization of Benedict’s refusal as “a snub”:

    “The only reason she wasn’t received was that she came during a period when the pope doesn’t receive anyone. It was a purely technical question of protocol,” an informed Vatican source told Catholic News Service Sept. 20.

    The source said it was “absolutely not” the Vatican’s intention to rebuff Rice or signal disagreement with U.S. policy on the Middle East.

    [Kevin Jones]: Saddam’s WMD program was a decoy operation to dupe Iran.

    Which managed to dupe even Saddam himself.

  • John Paul II spoke out repeatedly against the original Gulf War, even though liberating an invaded country is pretty clearly a just war situation.

    Can anybody clarify why this was the case?

    If memory serves his point was primarily that it was still possible to try to persuade the Iraqis to withdraw from Kuwait via diplomatic means, and as a secondary point that the suffering and instability likely to result of expelling the Iraqis via war would outweigh the benefits of doing so.

    Thus, it operated well within the traditional just war framework, but put the weight on the contra elements sufficiently high that virtually nothing could counteract them. (In that sense, sort of like his prudential judgment on capital punishment.)

    Given JP2’s experiences in Poland, I can’t say that I blame him at all for weighting factors such to arrive at functional pacifism, but I don’t agree with him either.

    I should note, when calling this functional pacifism, that JP2 did support the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, though I think he saw that as much less of a war-making activity than the Gulf War.

  • Blackadder

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that the position of either JP2 or Benedict is functionally pacifist. JP2 was against both wars in Iraq, but so were Robert Novak and Pat Buchanan (both men, whatever you think of their politics, can hardly be called pacifist). The Vatican was not against military intervention in Afghanistan, and supported military action in Rwanda, Burundi, and Bosnia.

  • Blackadder

    Also, Christopher, the idea that America had to invade Iraq because otherwise the UN would have looked feckless doesn’t strike me as being terribly compelling.

  • Continued U.N. failure to enforce its own resolutions would have come at a high cost had Saddam possessed the weapons intelligence sources thought he had at the time, or if his pursuit of WMD’s had gone unabated. At a glance Novak’s position (or Neuhaus’ for that matter) seems indistinguishable from that shared by our Congress. In the end it boils down to last resort.

    The Vatican was not against military intervention in Afghanistan, and supported military action in Rwanda, Burundi, and Bosnia.

    True.

  • A Bishop should be willing to lay down his very life for the truth if it comes to that. If they (apparently) don’t even have the courage of an average American, then that is pretty pathetic.

    Blackadder — that was a question raised in a related discussion over at Pro Ecclesia, where Michael Iafrate contends that “Botean had the balls to give pastoral weight to the Holy See’s judgment on the war, something that the USCCB was not willing to do.”

    Personally, I’m not sure if it’s a matter of the USCCB not having the cojones to denounce the U.S. war in Iraq in the manner of Botean or weighing who is the arbiter of the justness of a military conflict. As they said:

    “We understand and respect the difficult moral choices that must be made by our president and others who bear the responsibility of making these grave decisions involving our nation’s and the world’s security,” he said. “We support those who have accepted the call to serve their country in a conscientious way in the armed services and we reiterate our long-standing support for those who pursue conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection.” Could they have done more?

  • Who cares whether the position of Novak and Neuhaus matched that of Congress or not? The point is, it is a deviation from traditional just war theory, and the US government had the audacity to try to “educate” the Vatican delegation on the matter.

  • Could they have done more? Yes. They could have said that the Holy Father and the universal Church have deemed this war unjust.

  • it is a deviation from traditional just war theory

    Well, I think there is essentially the debate as to who rejects “traditional” just war theory, or if the theory is evolving. For example, read James Turner Johnson’s The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future — particularly “Disciplining Just War Thinking: Uses and Misuses of the Just War Idea in Recent American Debate” — where he analyzes the USCCB’s [Bishop Gregory]’s letter in light of what one might call “traditional” just war thinking.

  • Blackadder

    Christopher,

    A high cost to whom? To the UN? Who cares? How is salvaging the reputation of the UN worth American lives?

    On the matter of the Bishops, to be clear, I’m not saying that they should have denounced the Iraq invasion more forcefully than they did (restating some of the Pope’s comments would have been nice, but, then again, so far as I know the Pope didn’t issue a formal letter regarding the legitimacy of the war at all). My point is that if the Bishops thought the war unjust, but didn’t say so because they were afraid of what people would say about them, then they are cowards, worthy of contempt.

  • A high cost to whom? To the UN? Who cares? How is salvaging the reputation of the UN worth American lives?

    Don’t be dense. Do you think Saddam wanted to attack the U.N. with his WMD’s?

  • Could they have done more? Yes. They could have done what Botean did, which is to bring up two words that most Catholics can understand: “MORTAL SIN.”

  • Blackadder

    Christopher,

    Darwin said he found Novak’s WMD argument for war weak (so did I, as it happens). You responded that Novak actually made two arguments: “[1] the threat of WMD’s AND [2] the obligation to enforce U.N. resolutions that Saddam had consistently flouted for 12 years.” It’s not clear to me why I should care whether or not UN resolutions get enforced, and if the only answer is “because of the threat of WMDs” then I’d say Novak didn’t make two arguments – he made one argument twice using slightly different language.

  • Blackadder,

    Ok, I see what you’re getting at.

  • BA,

    “A high cost to whom? To the UN? Who cares? How is salvaging the reputation of the UN worth American lives?”

    I although I generally agree with what you are have said in this thread, I think you comment focusing on the worth of American lives is indicative of a serious we Catholics in America have. Although when pushed to it explcitly we would never agree, but implicitly, in the way we pray for OUR troops, etc. we take an American, but not a CATHOLIC perspective on major international events. We identify more strongly with the red, white, and blue than with the universal body of Christ.

    Jumping to another post, I think this is strongly connected, although subtly, with the idea of offering Sanctuary in the Catholic church.

    Anyway, didn’t mean to get us off topic. Its just something that I’m becoming more sensitive to.

    Peace

  • JB

    Katerina,

    “If you want to label Michael Novak heterodox, it seems to me proper to lay aside the pot-shots and quick labeling and bring the substance behind the charge.”

    Me! Me! Me! I would gladly volunteer for this. I just need to finish my semester so I can write something that would be worth reading.

    [Admin note: Use chevrons (<>) rather than brackets ([]) to close tags.]

  • Blackadder

    Josh,

    Human beings naturally care more for those they have some affinity to (our family, our friends, our countrymen, etc.) than those they don’t. A person will grieve far more for a lost parent, or child, or spouse, than they will for the tens of thousands of people who die every day throughout the world. Likewise, we care more about the Americans who died on 9/11 than the millions who’ve died in the Congo over the last few years. There’s nothing wrong with this. Even if it were possible (which it clearly is not), the world would not be a better place if we cared no more for our loved ones than we did for anyone else. If people cared a tenth as much about the death of any chilid as they do the death of their own child, we would all die of grief within a week.

    Lest I be misunderstood, let me make two things clear. First, the fact that people care more for their loved ones than for others does not mean that they shouldn’t care for others at all, or that it would be okay to murder, rape, or abuse, or steal from strangers so long as doing so benefited you and yours. Second, the fact that people care more for their loved ones than for others does not mean they think their loved ones have more inherent value than others, or that we aren’t all equally children of God, anything like that. What makes us care more for our parents than for other people’s parents is not that we think they are the best parents in the world, but that they are *our* parents.

  • catholicblues

    No one doubts that both the Pope and then Cardinal Ratzinger judged the Iraq War to be unjust according to their understanding of the just-war theory. One certainly has the human right to doubt their wisdom, to doubt their understanding of Church doctrine.

    How different things would be if Catholics trusted their shepherds.

    “(Loving our enemies) is the nucleus of the Christian revolution.” – Pope Benedict XVI

  • catholicblues

    Blackadder – I think you might be conflating ‘caring’ with loving, feelings with action. Com-passion isn’t some vague feeling of sympathy or empathy. It means to suffer in solidarity – to join in another’s suffering, being there with them – fighting against whatever evil plagues them, sacrificing to save them.

    “Love until it hurts.” – Mother Teresa

  • JB

    BA,

    I understand what you are saying, but I think catholicblues more clearly stated the point I was trying to get across. I certainly don’t mean to say we should become less concerned with those close to us, with American lives. But we are so concerned with protecting “our own” that we often forget about the suffering we* are directly or indirectly causing Christ’s poor through the world.

    * To be completely honest, more than anything else, I am preaching to myself and calling myself to more faithfully live the love which Christ’s calls us to live and to live it indiscriminately.

  • Blackadder – Catholicblues is right. You should also look into what Jesus had to say about love of family, tribe, nation, etc. vis-a-vis love of the “Other.” I think Jesus was pretty clear about this, and whatever argument you could make about how “natural” it is to love family more than others might indeed be “naturally” true but flies in the face of what Jesus taught. We are to love as God loves. Challenging? Yes. Not “natural”? Sure. But it is indeed what we are called to. And Josh’s sensitivity to the question of the value of human life means the Gospel has sunk in.

  • JB

    catholicblues,

    I couldn’t agree more. We are certainly experience a crisis of trust in authority. We are hard-headed sheep who refuse to listen to the wisdom of our shepherds far to often to prevent us from wandering into danger.

  • U.S. Catholics do experience a crisis trust in authority, but not in general. It is a question of whose authority they trust. They largely trust the president and U.S. culture rather than their professed trust in Christ and his Church because it’s more “natural” to trust those who will clearly look after “you and your own” through the threat of violence.

  • JB

    Good point. Thanks for clarifying.

    And just to clarify I made a mistake in filling out the comment box earlier, JB = Josh

  • Blackadder

    Michael,

    Jesus didn’t teach that it was wrong to care more for your own family than anyone else. He wasn’t a fool.

    Unfortunately, I am going to be indisposed the rest of the weekend, so this is an argument we’ll have to have another time.

  • TeutonicTim

    “U.S. Catholics do experience a crisis trust in authority, but not in general. It is a question of whose authority they trust. They largely trust the president and U.S. culture rather than their professed trust in Christ and his Church because it’s more “natural” to trust those who will clearly look after “you and your own” through the threat of violence.”

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this site, it’s that the people who post here trust the power of government more than me, by far. I’d much rather trust a government who let’s me look after who I wish (my family as well as others through charity) than one who extorts me. Be careful when making generalizations. I’d much rather the government leave me alone than one that thinks every aspect of my life is their business.

    What is concerning to me is that many Catholics think using force of government (and the requisite threat of violence) is the correct way to build the utopian world they’d like to see.

    In my time on this site, I’ve seen ideas floated such as: disarming me, taxing me because I have an SUV, paying me the same as an unskilled worker even though the work I do affects thousands of people in a life and death manner, making me live in a smaller house, allowing people to steal my identity and use my money to send their children to school, have the government dictate my health care, and many more.

    Now, tell me who trusts the government more…

  • Libertarianism is a joke.

  • Fact is, Tim, other people make a claim on you. Period. Government is one expression of that reality, but not the best one. The best expression of the fact that others make a claim on you is the Church.

    The political view you expressed bears little resemblance to the common life the Church calls us to.

  • TeutonicTim

    Never said I was a libertarian. Implementing socialism and communism and justifying it through the Church is inappropriate.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    You would have been better off just calling yourself a libertarian rather than making silly allegations of socialism and communism.

  • TeutonicTim

    I LOL’d.

    And here I thought good Catholics shouldn’t make generalizations and label people.

  • …and as a secondary point that the suffering and instability likely to result of expelling the Iraqis via war would outweigh the benefits of doing so.

    In retrospect that seems remarkably prescient.

  • TeutonicTim

    And stability under a murderous dictator is acceptable? Just because the media didn’t have stories on every night because they disagree with Bush doesn’t mean Iraq was a great place to be. Anyone remember the mass graves, chemical weapons attacks, the secret police, etc?

  • Implementing socialism and communism and justifying it through the Church is inappropriate.

    Depends what you mean by “socialism” and “communism.”

  • And could you explain what differentiates you from libertarianism? I fail to see it.

  • Iafrate,

    While not knowing TeutonicTim’s personal convictions, it seems quite clear that one might object to the secular state having a monopoly on healthcare, being in the mass education business, legislating house size, etc. while at the same time completely holding to the Catholic understanding that possessions come with the responsibility to use those possessions to help others.

    Catholic Social teaching mandates charity and social responsibility — it does not mandate government management of programs to achieve those ends, though Catholics certainly might make a personal judgment that the best way to achieve those ends was through government program. (IMHO they’d be wrong, but they would be fully within Catholic teaching in reaching that conclusion.)

  • TeutonicTim

    I could ask what differentiates you from many labels floating around in my head, but it’s none of my business, as the answer to your question is none of yours. Feel free to distribute labels as you see fit however.

    Darwin – That is an excellent summation. Thank you for your post.

  • And stability under a murderous dictator is acceptable?

    Gee, that one hasn’t been debated before. Objecting to a war is tantamount to endorsing everything that is evil in the world, blah blah blah.

    FWIW I fully supported Gulf War I at the time. (Of course I was a lapsed Catholic then, and I have no recollection of even being aware of what the Pope said at the time). Even now it seems to me that Desert Storm met the Just War criteria.

    My comment was merely that in retrospect, JPII’s prediction that “the suffering and instability likely to result of expelling the Iraqis via war would outweigh the benefits of doing so” is proving rather prescient.

  • tootuned

    What no one has said, and what Novak did in fact say, was that in the main Gulf War II was/is a response to Saddam’s blatant violation of the terms which ended Gulf War I. After all diplomacy failed (though I suppose it could have gone on endlessly and unproductively), The US defended the sacrifice of its war-dead from Gulf War 1. There was indeed a “defensive” character to our “starting” Gulf War II. WMD’s were a late add-on in the case for war to clinch the support of libs. However, their presence was not necessary to justify war.

  • There was indeed a “defensive” character to our “starting” Gulf War II. WMD’s were a late add-on in the case for war to clinch the support of libs. However, their presence was not necessary to justify war.

    Revisionistic.

  • Caleb Cambee

    Wow, that’s really interesting, I didn’t know much about the whole Vatican being opposed to the war. And to continue with topics that don’t get much press I’d like to shed some light on the soldiers, are most important way of getting news. There’s been a lot of debate over the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq and I think one thing in common that can’t be debated are the soldiers need to get out what is really going on. I just saw this documentary Sir! No Sir! which is about the G.I. movement during Vietnam and how they made underground newspapers about what was really going on. It reminded me of the soldiers in Iraq blogging about their experiences. We can always depend on the human desire to speak freely. Here’s their website for more info, it’s pretty interesting.

    http://www.sirnosir.com