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October 9, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 127




Tom Fox The pope's peace prize

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

You heard it here first. In less than 24 hours Pope John Paul II will be declared the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize!

The frail 83-year-old pope, who suffers Parkinson's disease, will be cited for his repeated appeals for peace throughout his quarter-century reign, but particularly his pleas for peace during the period leading up to the Iraq war.

Despite his strong peace credentials, the pope has always been overlooked by the Norway Nobel Institute. This year it will be different. This year marks his 25th anniversary as pope and many believe the pope might not live to have another shot at the prize, which he deserves.

In the months leading up to the Iraq war Pope John Paul spoke out vehemently against the notion of "preemptive" strike" and "preventive war," arguing the notion upsets a fragile international consensus against first strikes.

Because of his position as a religious leader, as a Christian leader, the pope's opposition also contributed to lessening the potential rift that opened up between Christianity and Islam as a result of the war.

The pontiff has been nominated on numerous occasions, but has never won the full support of the Nobel committee, which has rarely awarded the prize to religious figures. Exceptions include Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1979, Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984, the Dalai Lama in 1989 and Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo in 1996.

In recent days speculation has grown in Italy that this might be the pope's year. Italy's premier daily, Corriere della Sera, devoted half a page to an article outlining reasons why the ailing pope should get the prize.

The paper quoted Nobel-watcher Stein Tonnesson as saying: "2003 was the year of the war in Iraq. The biggest world personality who immediately came out against the war without doubt was the pontiff. His opposition prevented the war being transformed into a new Christian Crusade against Islam."

"No pope has ever received the prize, given John Paul II's bad health this is his last chance," said Tonnesson, head of the Prio peace institute in Oslo.

The Corriere also pointed out the pope's chances had possibly improved because one of his chief detractors, Oslo's Lutheran bishop Gunnar Stalsett, stepped down from the Nobel committee last year. He once castigated the pope for his conservatism, particularly on contraception.

But Tonnesson also pointed out that the jury "is majority female and the pope's position on abortion, contraception, the role of women in the church and homosexuality are well known."

The newspaper also cites one of Norway's leading Catholics, Janne Haaland-Matlary, a former deputy prime minister and a member of the Vatican commission for justice and peace.

"There have been no leaks (as to the identity of the winner) but no-one was more opposed to the war in Iraq than John Paul II. If he won the Nobel, I would be delighted. But a great deal of anti-papal prejudice will play an important role."

The Vatican, meanwhile, has stated that John Paul, despite his deteriorating health, would attend the prize giving ceremony in Oslo on Dec. 10 in the event of his being awarded the prize.

And, of course, if justice does not play out its hand, if the pope is once again overlooked, this humble column will be quickly forgotten.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

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