By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
This final column of 2003 prompts a look back over a
remarkably news-rich 12 months. Herewith the “Word from Rome” list of the Top
Vatican Stories of the Year, as measured by coverage generated as well as
significance for both church and world.
10. The Vatican and
During his 25-year pontificate Pope John Paul II has had no greater ecumenical
priority than Russian Orthodoxy, and one could argue he’s also had no greater
source of frustration. 2003 was another maddeningly up-and-down year, with every
sign of progress matched by a relapse into hard feelings.
fate of Catholic/Russian Orthodox relations is of consequence not just because
of John Paul’s sentimental Slavic attachment, but because it could play an
important role in drawing the 250-million strong block of Eastern Orthodox
peoples, concentrated in Russia and the Balkans, more firmly into the Western
year began on Jan. 13 with a highly unusual papal dressing-down of the Russian
government for the way it had been harassing Catholic priests regarding visas,
and generally making life difficult for the country’s small Catholic community.
An official of the Moscow Patriarchate testily shot back that Russia’s Catholics
are “fully free to pray and engage in public activities. This freedom is enough,
because the Catholic churches barely have enough believers to fill them, as the
idea of a large-scale Catholic mission to Russia has failed.”
four days later, Catholic Bishop Vincent Paglia of Terni, Italy, a key figure in
the Community of Sant’Egidio, was in Moscow handing over relics of St. Valentine
to Russian Orthodox officials, with smiles and good cheer all the way around.
Moreover, the Russian government soon granted a permanent residence permit to
Bishop Clemens Pickel after refusing visas to Bishop Jerzy Mazur and several
Throughout the early months of 2003, there was speculation that a much-desired
papal trip to Russia might materialize in conjunction with a possible August
visit to Mongolia. The occasion would be the return of the Madonna of Kazan, a
famed Russian Orthodox icon that for complicated historical reasons is currently
in the papal apartments. After preliminary plans for a Kazan stopover were
leaked, however, the Orthodox scotched the idea, saying that disputes over
Catholic “proselytism” in Russia and Ukraine would have to be solved first.
the end, the whole project for a visit to Mongolia collapsed.
Catholic/Orthodox recrimination was further intensified May 17, when the Vatican
elevated two apostolic administrations in Kazakhstan to dioceses. The move was
taken by the Moscow patriarchate, which claims Kazakhstan as its “canonical
territory,” as another indication of Catholic expansionism.
also in September, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kalilinigrad, the number
two figure in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, sounded almost ebullient about
Catholic/Orthodox relations at a Sant’Egidio gathering.
is a season in which dialogue, beyond the incomprehensions of the past, is
possible,” he said. “People say that the Orthodox are closed to dialogue, but if
that were true, I wouldn’t be here.”
Nov. 5, 2003, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited John Paul II. He
downplayed the idea of a papal trip.
“Christianity is at the base of European culture and European identity,” Putin
said. “Thus I consider my objective not so much making it possible for the pope
to come to Russia, as favoring Christian unity with every opportune step.”
the end, John Paul II may be fated to play the role of Moses on Catholic/Russian
Orthodox relations: he has led the two communities through the wilderness, but
it may be up to someone else to enter the promised land.
9. Saints and
By far the biggest
saint story of 2003 concerned a woman who isn’t technically a saint yet, though
everyone agrees it won’t be long: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, beatified by John
Paul II in a massive Oct. 19 ceremony in St. Peter’s Square. The tiny Albanian
nun who founded the Missionaries of Charity and became a hero in overwhelmingly
Hindu India was perhaps the only late 20th century Catholic figure
who could rival John Paul II himself in terms of star power.
year brought John Paul II to a staggering total of 1,320 persons beatified and
476 saints canonized, not only more than previous popes, but more than all
previous popes combined. (Previous popes together, from the institution of a
formal canonization process under Clement VIII in the 16th century,
named 302 saints).
notable canonizations and beatifications in 2003 included:
Fr. Giacomo Alberione, founder of the Pauline family of religious communities
(not to be confused with the Paulist Fathers in the United States). Alberione
is known as an apostle of mass communications. He entered the seminary in
1896, when the Catholic world buzzed with energy under Pope Leo XIII, who
aimed to “win back the world for the church,” calling for a vast “Christian
reconstruction of society.” Alberione shared this optimistic, forward-looking
ethos. Eventually the currents unleashed by Leo XIII and Alberione crested at
Marco d’Aviano, a 17th century Capuchin priest famed for rallying Christian
armies to defeat the Ottoman Turks in the siege of Vienna in 1683. He
celebrated Mass for the troops, leading them in repeated cries of “Jesus!
Mary!” During the fighting, he brandished a crucifix at the Turks, shouting,
“Behold the Cross of the Lord: Flee, enemy bands!” To defenders, Marco
d’Aviano was a holy man reluctantly drawn into war, as well as a wonder-worker
and mystic. Detractors, however, asked why the pope chose to elevate a symbol
of Christian-Muslim conflict.
Daniel Comboni, an Italian priest and bishop who traveled to Africa in the
1850s. He founded his own institute, and although he died in 1881 of a fever
at age 50, its mission continued. Today the Combonis have 4,000 priests,
brothers, sisters and lay missionaries in 40 countries in Africa, South
America and Asia. They formed hundreds of schools and operate five hospitals.
Comboni has become a symbol of Christian commitment to Africa.
One of the more curious beatifications of 2003 came in Croatia, where John
Paul honored Sr. Marija Petkovic. Famed for her heroism after arrest by the
Slovakian Communists, Petkovic is a rare candidate for sainthood whose miracle
is something other than a healing. Instead, she reportedly came to the aid of
an inanimate object – more specifically, a submarine. In 1988, a Peruvian
submarine named Pacocha crashed into a Japanese fishing vessel. When the sub
began to sink, a young officer named Roger Cotrina Alvarado prayed to Petkovic,
whose life story had been read to him by his mother. Cotrina Alvarado was able
to close an inside door despite strong water pressure. The maneuver was judged
“humanly impossible” by two commissions, one military and the other Vatican.
Nineteen officers were saved; six crew members died. Cotrina Alvarado, by the
way, attended the June 6 beatification ceremony in Dubrovnik, and presented
the pope with a miniature of a boat.
8. Fallout from the
Sex Abuse Crisis
Aftershocks from the sex abuse earthquake of 2002 continued throughout the year.
In some ways, 2003 may be remembered as a year in which the Vatican, at least
temporarily, set aside “business as usual” to address the most burning crisis in
certain parts of the Catholic world since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
February 7, John Paul II approved a set of revisions to canon law to speed up
trials of accused priests and to make it easier to remove guilty priests from
the clerical state. The changes allow deacons and lay people to serve on
criminal tribunals, even as judges. The changes also give the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith the power to dismiss someone from the priesthood
without a trial. The revisions had been requested by American canon lawyers.
March 26, in a personal message to three Boston-area men who visited Rome and
who said they were victims of sexual abuse by priests, John Paul II vowed that
he “realizes the seriousness of the problem” and “will see that this doesn’t
unusual April 4-5 scientific symposium on pedophilia at the Vatican featured
eight experts – four Germans, three Canadians and an American. All were
non-Catholic. The idea, according to participants, was to expose Vatican
officials to “state-of-the-art information” about sexual abuse of minors. The
lone American expert was Dr. Martin P. Kafka of the Harvard Medical School.
July 1, John Paul II appointed Bishop Sean O’Malley as the new archbishop of
Boston. Vatican sources cited O’Malley’s experience in dealing with the sexual
abuse crisis in Palm Beach and also in Fall River, Mass., his positive public
image in the Boston area, and his Capuchin Franciscan spirituality in explaining
Long-time observers said all these moves reflected an unusual sense of urgency
inside the Vatican and a willingness to “think outside the box.” Whether that
lasts remains to be seen.
August, a 1962 Vatican document titled Crimen Sollicitationis surfaced in
the American press and was briefly hailed as a “smoking gun” proving a
Vatican-ordered conspiracy to subvert criminal justice. It became clear,
however, that the secrecy it enjoined under penalty of excommunication concerned
canonical procedures, not civil or criminal matters. Observers warned that the
hostile response to Crimen Sollicitationis illustrated the public
relations meltdown in the United States: people are prepared to believe the
worst about the Catholic Church.
Oct. 16, the 25th anniversary of his papacy, John Paul issued a
document on the episcopacy resulting from the 2001 Synod of Bishops. In it, he
referred to the scandals.
cases of grave lapses, and even more of crimes which do damage to the very
witness of the Gospel, especially when they involve the church’s ministers, the
bishop must be firm and decisive, just and impartial,” the pope wrote. Bishops
must act in a timely manner “for the reparation of scandal and the restoration
of justice, and for all that is required for the protection and assistance of
same day, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that while a substantial
majority of American Catholics are satisfied with the pope’s overall
performance, 74 percent felt he did not do enough to respond to the sex abuse
7. Liturgical and
John Paul II issued the 14th encyclical of his pontificate in 2003,
dedicated to the Eucharist. Released April 17, the aim of Ecclesia de
Eucharistia was rekindling Eucharistic “amazement” among Catholics, as well
as to “banish dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice.”
saw the encyclical as a moving, almost biographical spiritual meditation, as
well as a helpful reassertion of traditional doctrine and discipline. Others
said it is a rather predictable treatment that in some ways owes more to the
mid-16th century Council of Trent than to Vatican II.
Paul announced that the encyclical would be followed by a disciplinary document
from the Holy See to correct “abuses” in liturgical practice. He hinted at what
they might be by listing certain “shadows” in the church:
Abandoning Eucharistic adoration;
• A reductive understanding of the Eucharist, celebrated as a fraternal meal
rather than a sacrifice;
• The necessity of the ministerial priesthood is sometimes obscured;
• Ecumenical practices “contrary to the discipline by which the church
expresses her faith.”
Throughout 2003, a drafting committee comprised of staff from the Congregation
for Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith worked on
the disciplinary document, now set for release in early 2004. An early draft
leaked to the press over the summer stirred controversy because it would have
discouraged altar girls, along with clapping and liturgical dance. Vatican
sources say, however, that this language has been removed. The 30-some page
document, now being translated into several languages, focuses almost
exclusively on the Eucharist, and sources say it adds nothing to existing
liturgical law. It will repeat controversial strictures on lay Eucharistic
ministers and inter-communion with Protestants.
episode in Germany in 2003 illustrates how painful these matters can be.
late May, Berlin was the site of a massive national gathering of German
Catholics and Protestants. Two liberal Catholic groups — “We are Church” and
“The Church from Below Initiative” — decided to challenge the church’s
Eucharistic discipline by hosting joint inter-communion services. Both took
place in East Berlin’s Gethsemane Lutheran Church and drew between 2,000 and
69-year-old Catholic priest and theologian, Fr. Gotthold Hasenhuettl, officiated
at the May 29 service and distributed communion to both Catholics and
Protestants. On May 31, a 41-year-old Bavarian Catholic priest named Fr.
Bernhard Kroll delivered a homily at the other celebration, presided over by a
Protestant pastor. Both Hasenhuettl and Kroll were later reprimanded.
Hasenhuettl has appealed a suspension, while Kroll is on a kind of hiatus.
say the Anglican/Catholic dialogue, institutionalized in the Anglican-Roman
Catholic International Commission, would easily win the prize for the most
gentlemanly and professional relationship in divided Christianity.
Despite those good vibes, the dialogue hit a serious crisis in 2003.
year opened with a story that seemed to hint at progress, as well as the pope’s
personal generosity. On Feb. 23, Prime Minister Tony Blair of England, along
with his wife Cherie, attended Mass in John Paul’s private apartment. Reports
afterwards were muddled, but it now seems clear that Blair did indeed receive
communion from John Paul. While this was a sign of respect for Blair, it also
suggests an ecumenical sensitivity from John Paul towards Anglicanism.
Another positive sign came Oct. 4-5, with the visit of Archbishop of Canterbury
Rowan Williams. It marked the 12th occasion since Dec. 2, 1960, when
Geoffrey Fisher paid his respects to Pope John XXIII, that an archbishop of
Canterbury has visited the pope. This was the first time the archbishop did so
at the beginning of his term, almost as if the new archbishop was being
“confirmed” in his ministry by the Bishop of Rome.
visit, however, also unfolded under the shadow of the crisis within Anglicanism
set off by three developments concerning homosexuality:
The diocese of New Westminster in Canada issued a formal rite for the blessing
of same sex unions;
• The diocese of New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson as the first openly gay
bishop in the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church of the United States
confirmed the election and Robinson was consecrated;
• Jeffrey John, who acknowledges a homosexual orientation but says he is
celibate, was elected bishop of the diocese of Reading in England. John later
developments, especially Robinson’s consecration, threatened to generate a
schism within Anglicanism. They also posed serious consequences for the
relationship with Catholicism. A February meeting in Seattle of the
International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, a new
body created to work out a common statement of faith, was put on hold.
most observers believe the crisis will not produce significant defections to the
Catholic Church, the potential for such traffic will be one of the stories to
watch in 2004.
the same time, experts say the crisis could unexpectedly bring Anglicans and
Catholics closer together. Williams has offered, and the Vatican has accepted,
the formation of an ad-hoc subcommittee to consider the ecclesiological
implications of the Anglican crisis. In effect, Roman Catholics have been
offered a voice in Anglican reflections about identity and structures. Depending
on how things go, the current crisis could thus end up being remembered as a
moment in which Anglicans and Catholics began to address “internal” problems in
5. Papal Succession
in the papal sweepstakes was given a special focus in October, when John Paul
created 31 new cardinals. Many observers had expected a consistory in February
2004, hence the decision to hold it earlier struck some as a possible sign of
papal apprehension that his time was running out. (That’s almost certainly
fantasy, but it gave the event extra sex appeal).
the end, the consensus is that no slam-dunk new papabile, or candidate to
be pope, entered the College of Cardinals on Oct. 21. There are two figures who
might grow into that role with time: Cardinals Angelo Scola of Venice, 62, and
Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, 59. Nor did the new appointments radically alter
the politics of the college, since there was a fairly even distribution of
doctrinal conservatives, doctrinal moderates, and men whose primary interest is
social and political matters rather than doctrinal questions.
saw the stock of some papal candidates rise, as measured by media exposure,
profile in ecclesiastical circles, and buzz within the College of Cardinals.
Among those who seemed to enter the ranks of papabili in 2003 were:
Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, 67
• Ivan Dias of India, 67
• Geraldo Majella Agnelo of Brazil, 70
• Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa of Chile, 70
• Ennio Antonelli of Italy, 66
Bergoglio, Agnelo and Ossa are all intelligent, moderate-to-conservative,
pastoral Latin American candidates, men who would give a face to the Church in
the Third World, but who have enough political savvy to be able to hold their
own in Rome. Agnelo and Ossa have both worked in the Roman Curia, and in May
Ossa was elected president of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ conference.
Dias is a genuine cosmopolitan, a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps and
someone who could help the church respond to the doctrinal and sociological
challenges posed by Asian diversity. Antonelli is a smiling, pastoral man and
Vatican outsider who reminds some of Cardinal Albino Luciani, the “smiling pope”
of 33 days in 1978.
perennial candidate who star dimmed in 2003 was Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos,
74, a Colombian who heads the Congregation for the Clergy. Castrillón has long
been considered a leading Latin American candidate, but the odds are against
anyone being elected directly out of the Roman Curia. (The last time it happened
was 1939, and that was because the world was on the brink of war and Cardinal
Eugenio Pacelli’s diplomatic skills were seen as crucial). Moreover,
Castrillón’s imperious and snarling responses to the sexual abuse scandals of
2002 led some observers to doubt his capacity to deal with the press or to lead
the institution in moments of crisis.
4. Marriage and
2003 was a year in
which the Holy See increasingly marked the defense of monogamous, heterosexual
marriage as the front line of the culture wars. As noted above, this was at the
heart of the crisis in Anglican/Catholic relations.
issue came up time and again throughout 2003.
Jan. 16, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Doctrinal Note
on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Public Life.” It
called on Catholics involved in public life to uphold church teaching on moral
questions, and made allusion to the question of same-sex marriage.
no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage,
nor can they receive legal recognition as such,” the document held.
July 31, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document
specifically on the question of gay marriage titled, “Considerations Regarding
Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons.”
from reiterating the church’s long-standing moral critique of homosexuality, the
document broke new ground in two ways.
First, it ruled out the possibility that a Catholic politician could promote any
form of civil registration for same-sex unions. Prior to this document, some
Catholic ethicists had argued that a Catholic public official could support
measures “recognizing” same-sex partnerships, as long as the unique legal status
of heterosexual marriage was preserved.
Second, the document called on all Catholics, not just politicians, to refuse to
cooperate with these measures where they exist.
must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application
of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation
on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right
to conscientious objection,” it stated.
Internal Catholic debate over homosexuality also coursed through 2003, as the
Vatican wrestled with the question of whether to issue a document regarding the
admission of homosexuals to seminaries. Momentum towards such a document built
during the sex abuse scandals of 2002, but appeared to be stalled after the
Vatican pedophilia symposium in April. The experts at that gathering told
Vatican officials that there did not appear to be a causal relationship between
a homosexual orientation and a propensity to abusive behavior.
3. The Struggle for
soon-to-be-expanded European Union lurched towards a new constitutional document
in 2003, John Paul II and top Vatican officials, along with other Christian
leaders, repeatedly insisted that the preamble to that text should make specific
reference to the continent’s Christian roots.
pleas fell largely on deaf ears.
fact, an early draft of the document said that Europe had been nourished by
“Hellenic and Roman civilizations,” then “marked by the spiritual impulse that
runs through it and whose traces are present in its patrimony,” then finally “by
the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment.” Hence Greece, Rome and the
Enlightenment were acknowledged, but not Christianity, as sources of European
culture. This was taken as a deliberate affront, a revival of old anti-clerical
final draft, revised to soften this blow, referred to “the cultural, religious
and humanist inheritance of Europe.” Hence Christianity was not inserted, but
the other cultural currents were taken out. Pressure to insert a specific
reference to Christianity mounted by an ad-hoc coalition of Europe’s most
Catholic nations, including Italy, Poland and Ireland, was not enough to
outweigh France and other determined secularists.
inter-governmental conference in Rome in the Fall failed to reach agreement on
the text (over issues having to do with voting rights, not the preamble), so as
of this writing its ultimate fate is unclear.
Throughout the year, the pope repeatedly warned Europeans not to forget their
roots. In a typical Sunday Angelus address in July, he said:
certain loss of memory is accompanied by a certain fear to face the future. …
Paradoxically, the cradle of human rights risks the disappearance of its
foundation eroded by relativism and utilitarianism.”
Paul’s four trips in 2003 – Spain, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovakia – all took him
to Europe, and all were dominated by this call to historical memory. Especially
on his forays into Eastern Europe, the pope pleaded with Christian communities
that had suffered in the 20th century to preserve their faith to
carry that experience with them in the construction of the new Europe.
is my hope,” the pope said to Croatians on June 6 in Dubrovnik, “that the
patrimony of human and Christian values, accumulated down the centuries, will
continue … to be the most precious treasure of the people of this country.”
June 28, John Paul released an apostolic letter on Europe, titled Ecclesia in
Europa. It marked his official conclusion from the 1999 Synod of Bishops,
dedicated to Europe, and he returned anew to the theme of Europe’s Christian
“Europe needs to make a qualitative leap in becoming conscious of its spiritual
heritage,” John Paul wrote.
Characteristically, the pope suggested that the salvation of European
Catholicism will come not from structural reform, such as a relaxation of
priestly celibacy or greater collegiality, but from a new burst of evangelical
zeal. Europe’s problem isn’t structures, the pope seemed to imply, but nerve.
impetus can only come from hearing anew the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the pope
wrote. “It is the responsibility of all Christians to commit themselves to
satisfying this hunger and thirst for life.”
2. The Pope’s
Paul’s 25th year in the papacy, the world’s media focused tightly –
some would say almost morbidly – on his declining health. While the attention
was probably excessive, and at times it swamped more substantive coverage of the
Vatican, it nevertheless offered a kind of backhanded tribute to John Paul’s
During the 83-year-old pope’s trips, details of his exertions were replayed and
dissected in excruciating detail. In Spain, for example, the press corps was
fascinated by the hydraulic lift used to hoist the pope on and off the papal
the first day in Slovakia in September, when John Paul slumped and unexpectedly
failed to finish his opening speech, networks dispatched key personnel to
Bratislava and Rome, fearing the worst. Newspapers that had decided to skip the
expense of the trip suddenly ordered correspondents into position. The sight of
emergency medical equipment at the cathedral in Trnava and on the papal plane
had journalists scrambling to spell, and define, terms such as “defibrillator.”
obsessive was the health focus?
one stage in Slovakia, a CNN correspondent prepared a package for domestic
broadcast in the United States that lasted one minute and forty seconds, with
twenty seconds on the pope’s message about Europe and the rest on his ailments.
When it reached Atlanta, the twenty seconds on Europe was cut out.
Periodically, rumors floated through Rome about various health crises. Oct. 12,
for example, word circulated briefly that John Paul was about to undergo
dialysis, based on a spectacular newspaper report. Networks put doctors on
standby, and nervous TV crews went on red alert. Within a couple of hours,
however, it became clear that the rumor was unfounded.
During the mid-October celebrations of the pope’s 25th anniversary,
John Paul seemed weak and fatigued, leading some to speculate that the end might
be in sight. Yet by December, the real story seemed to be his rejuvenation. Once
again, rumors of the pope’s demise proved greatly exaggerated.
Bottom line: there is no sign of imminent crisis. Given the realities of age,
Parkinson’s disease, and the crushing demands of his job, John Paul II is always
vulnerable to a sudden collapse. At the same time, no one should be shocked if
we are still talking about the pope’s health several years from now.
Perhaps the real health story of 2003 was John Paul’s longevity: he marked his
25th anniversary on the Throne of Peter, and became the
fourth-longest serving pope in history (tradition puts St. Peter in first place,
whose dates are uncertain). If he keeps going, John Paul will overtake Leo XIII
in mid-March 2004 to move into third place, behind only St. Peter and Pius IX,
who reigned 31 years, seven months and 17 days (John Paul would surpass his mark
is the media attention to papal health sound and fury signifying nothing?
Certainly the press over-interprets minor ups and downs, and tends to go off the
deep end pursuing every health-related rumor, however farcical (example: John
Paul’s alleged papaya-based wonder drug). Nevertheless, since there is no
realistic scenario for papal succession other than the death of the incumbent,
and since there is no provision in canon law for papal incapacitation, reporters
are not wrong to treat health news as potentially very consequential. Moreover,
we can perhaps be forgiven for pursuing the odd rumor, since the pope does not
release the results of annual physical exams, offering solid data to report.
(The Vatican takes the position, which will seem either quaint or obscurantist
depending on your point of view, that even a pope is entitled to his privacy).
the end, perhaps the Holy See has to accept the bitter with the sweet. If it
wants the world to take the papacy seriously, perhaps the price to be paid is an
occasionally ghoulish curiosity about the pope’s health.
The Vatican and the War in Iraq
During 2003, John Paul II became the leading voice of moral opposition to
the U.S.-led war in Iraq. While Catholics supportive of the effort to topple
Saddam Hussein point out, correctly, that the pope never specifically condemned
the war, John Paul nevertheless left no doubt that he felt it was both morally
unjustified and strategically unwise.
Perhaps John Paul’s strongest language came in a March 16 Angelus address, when
he departed from his prepared text to add personal comments about his experience
of the Second World War.
belong to that generation that lived through World War II and, thanks be to God,
survived it,” the pope added. “I have the duty to say to all young people, to
those who are younger than I, who have not had this experience: ‘No more war’ as
Paul VI said during his first visit to the United Nations.”
the pope was nuanced and indirect, other Vatican channels were far more pointed.
L’Osservatore Romano and Vatican Radio brimmed with critical commentary.
At one stage, L’Osservatore all but called Bush’s policy in Iraq stupid,
saying that it lacked “the intelligence necessary at certain levels.”
Officials such as then-Archbishop, now Cardinal, Renato Martino and Cardinal
Angelo Sodano were equally harsh. Sodano, for example, wondered aloud about the
Americans, “Didn’t the lesson of Vietnam teach you anything?”
the build-up to war, John Paul dispatched emissaries to both Hussein and Bush to
try to avert the conflict. He also received a string of diplomatic heavyweights,
including Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, Jose Maria Aznar and Tarik Aziz. Marchers in
peace demonstrations across Europe and around the world brandished pictures of
the pope and massive banner headlines from L’Osservatore such as “The
Madness of War.”
John Paul’s advocacy did not prevent the war, it may have preserved a kind of
separate peace. The fear beforehand was that an American strike in Iraq would
trigger a broader Christian-Muslim conflagration, Samuel Huntington’s
much-ballyhooed clash of civilizations. In fact, such clash did not occur. In
all the traditional Christian-Muslim hotspots, from Sudan to Mindanao to
Lebanon, observers reported no significant anti-Christian backlash due to events
in Iraq. They said that average Muslims distinguished between American policy
and Western Christianity, to a great extent because the pope had been such a
vocal critic of the war.
late 2003, there were signs that some Vatican officials were uncomfortable with
the harsh rhetoric that had marked the Holy See’s opposition to the war. The
pope’s peace message for January 1, 2004, for example, prepared by Martino, was
toned down because certain passages were held to be “anti-American.”
the same time, the clash over Iraq seemed to reveal a fundamental and enduring
diplomatic conflict between the Holy See and the United States. The four areas
of dispute are: the legitimacy of “preventive war,” the binding force of
international law, the scope and powers of the United Nations, and the American
role on the world stage.
Paul’s parting words in 2003 brought him back to the theme of peace. During
midnight Mass, the pope lamented that “too much blood is still being shed on the
earth,” and that “too many conflicts disturb the peaceful co-existence of
returned to this concern in his Urbi et Orbi greeting Christmas day.
“Save us from the great
evils that rend humanity in these first years of the third millennium,” he told
the thousands of faithful gathered in the sunshine of St. Peter's Square.
“Save us from the wars and
armed conflicts which lay waste whole areas of the world, from the scourge of
terrorism and from the many forms of violence which assail the weak and
vulnerable. Save us from discouragement as we face the paths to peace, difficult
paths indeed, yet possible and therefore necessary – paths which are always and
everywhere urgent, especially in the land where you (Jesus) were born, the
Prince of Peace.”
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
© The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E.
Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.