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Cardinal predicts failure for Novak’s effort to sell Vatican on Iraq war


A top Vatican official has predicted that Michael Novak, an American Catholic intellectual asked by the U.S. government to try to persuade Rome of the morality of a possible “preventive war” in Iraq, will fail.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, in a Jan. 24 comment to NCR, said with respect to a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq, “I do not see how the requirements for a just war can be met at this time.”

Asked if he thought Novak’s mission to persuade the Vatican could succeed, Kasper responded: “I don’t think so.”

“I am of the opinion of the pope himself, and of the Secretariat of State, of the Roman Curia,” Kasper said. “I do not think all the methods of peaceful negotiations, of diplomatic relations, have been exhausted.”

Kasper, a German who serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was in the central Italian city of Perugia for a lecture on Pope Leo XIII and ecumenism on the 100th anniversary of the pope’s death. Following the program, NCR asked for his perspective on the war.

“A war would touch the poorest of the poor, not Saddam Hussein,” Kasper said. “Women and children and sick people would have to suffer, and we should consider the destiny of such people.”

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson announced in mid-January that he would bring Novak to Rome, after a series of very critical comments on the idea of war in Iraq from the pope and a host of top Vatican officials.

Curial officials have complained about U.S. “unilateralism” and warned that an American strike in the Middle East would arouse anger across the Islamic world. Most recently, Vatican media outlets have suggested that oil interests and the desire of American TV networks for ratings are also behind the buildup to war.

In his comments to NCR, Kasper echoed concern about Muslim reaction.

“Very often the Muslims make an identification, which is wrong but they do it, between Christianity and the West,” Kasper said. “I think this war could become a very heavy problem and could destabilize the entire region of the Middle East.”

Kasper’s comments are especially indicative of the Vatican’s strong opposition to a war in Iraq, since Kasper supported U.S. strikes in Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11.

“This [the Taliban] is a very terrible government that doesn’t respect the human rights of its own people,” Kasper said in response to a question from NCR at that time. “When a government shelters terrorists, the civilized world has a right to come to a conflict with this government. There is a network and it must be destroyed, but without shedding innocent blood, as much as possible.”

On the subject of Iraq, however, Kasper struck a different tone Jan. 24.

“I don’t think I have all the information about Iraq, it is impossible, but as much as I have, I am not in favor of this war…. I think we should use other means to solve these questions. I do not defend Saddam Hussein, nobody would. But there are also other means to resolve the questions of peace and justice in the world,” he said.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR’s Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@natcath.org.

National Catholic Reporter, February 31, 2003