Pope's Emissary Meets With Bush, Calls War 'Unjust'
By Johanna Neuman; Los Angeles Times ; March 6, 2003
-- President Bush, fresh from making plans for war against Iraq, met
for 40 minutes Wednesday with Cardinal Pio Laghi, an emissary from the
Vatican who made a last appeal for peace.
A friend of the president's father and the Vatican's first
ambassador to Washington, Laghi brought to the White House the moral
authority of the Roman Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday. In Rome,
meanwhile, Pope John Paul II called on the world to fast for peace.
Laghi, 80 years old and retired from the Vatican, said after his
meeting with Bush that a war would be "illegal and unjust," but stopped
short of calling it immoral. In a news conference at the National Press
Club, he also said the United States had an obligation to seek the
blessings of the United Nations.
"A decision regarding the use of military force can only be taken
within the framework of the United Nations," he said, "but always
taking into account the grave consequences of such an armed conflict:
the suffering of the people of Iraq and those involved in the military
operation, a further instability in the region and a new gulf between
Islam and Christianity."
But he also called on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to show more
good faith in dismantling his weapons of mass destruction. "He has been
promising for 12 years," Laghi said.
In the meeting, Bush and Laghi discussed Middle East peace, as well
as issues from cloning to abortion. On Iraq, a White House spokeswoman
said Bush explained to Laghi, as he has in recent speeches, that he
feels a special obligation to protect the American people and that he
believes the world will be safer if Hussein is disarmed. And he
disputed the idea of a gulf between religions, citing success in
Laghi delivered a personal letter, but neither he nor the White
House would disclose its contents. The cardinal said the president told
him he appreciates the pope's efforts to find a peaceful way out of
conflict. "We are not at the end yet," Laghi said. "I'm going away with
With U.N. diplomacy and U.S. military planning at a fever pitch,
the White House has tried in recent days to assuage Catholic antiwar
sentiment. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice met Monday with
top Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington.
But the National Council of Churches, an umbrella group of 13
denominations that requested a meeting in January, says it has been
snubbed. Methodist bishops, who say they have met with every president
since George Washington, are upset that Bush has declined to see them.
"There's disappointment among Methodists because he's one of us,"
said Jim Winkler, general secretary of the bishops' social justice
advocacy group. "We don't want to berate him or give him a hard time.
We want to pray with him, and we are bewildered that he has not been
Religious views of a potential war in Iraq vary. According to the
latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press,
80% of evangelical white Protestants support the war, the highest tally
of any group measured.
And mainline Protestants have recently complained that Bush, a
self-described born-again Christian, has been making the case for war
in terms that appeal to that group's view of Armageddon -- talking of
good and evil, portraying those who oppose action as siding with
"It's always easy to twist the Scripture using text as code word," said
Terrence Tilley, who chairs the religious studies program at the
University of Dayton. "Jesus at one point, in talking about healing by
casting out demons, said, 'If you're not with us, you're against us,'
but in another version he said, 'If you're not against us, you're with
The Catholic Church has long opposed war on moral grounds, and this
pope has harked back to the 4th century doctrine of "just war" to
define acceptable conditions for war. Most Catholic theologians defined
World War II as a just war -- at least until 1944, said Tilley, when
the allies began bombing cities such as Dresden and other civilian
Now, in discussing the concept of a just war, many American clergy
are talking about the need to exploit every peaceful resolution so that
war is a last resort. And they are already fearful that the Pentagon's
bombing plan, described as pounding Iraq with the "shock and awe" of
800 cruise missiles, will not be, as theology requires, measured.
"No Catholic leader would find that proportionate," Tilley said.
Religious leaders have also been debating the administration's case
for war as a preemptive strike to prevent Hussein from using his
weapons of mass destruction.
Father Paul Fitzgerald, professor of religious studies at Santa
Clara University, noted that unlike during the Cold War, when "a
preemptive strike against the Soviet Union had a certain horrible
logic, this strike against Iraq is not preemptive, it's preventive, and
we've never done that before."
Fitzgerald said the meeting between Bush and the cardinal was an
important signal of the Vatican's influence. "Over the last 15 to 20
years, the papacy has built up a certain moral weight internationally,"
Noting that John Paul worked closely with President Reagan to
hasten the end of the Soviet Union -- including funneling money to
dissidents in Poland and other eastern European countries -- Fitzgerald
said that the pope had also established himself -- with a visit to
Israel in which he expressed sadness for the church's passive role in
the face of the Holocaust -- as an evenhanded player in Middle East
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times