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Interview with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran

Vatican Undersecretary for Relations with States

L’Avvenire , Sept. 10, 2002

(translation by NCR)

Monsignor Tauran, at the distance of a year [from Sept. 11], has some light returned?

That abominable action has raised a universal condemnation of terrorism, it has incited jurists to better define terrorism, and it has prompted those responsible for the world’s societies to examine the causes of such inhuman violence. Moreover, both the encounter at Assisi of the past Jan. 24, as well as the meeting “Men and Religions” at Palermo just a few days ago, gave prominence to the idea that religion can never justify terrorism and that all believers have a common duty: to disarm hate. Because a good can always come from evil, I think that it’s very positive that these blind and unspeakable acts of violence, which created so many victims and afflicted so many families, have been unanimously condemned. In particular, reading the declarations of so many bishops, I observe that prominence was very much given to a fundamental truth, that all believers, and in particular Jews, Christians and Muslims profess: human life is sacred, it comes from God, the creator and author of everything, and only he has rights over it. Thus it was proclaimed, and not only in the churches but a little bit everywhere, that all violence is contrary to the laws of God, and that problems can only be resolved with dialogue, law and love. Thus is built a world where people can live in peace and justice: there is no other way.

Meanwhile, however, new clouds of war are now gathering over Iraq. What is the position of the Holy See?

To always privilege dialogue; to never isolate a country or a government, so that one can better call back to their duties those who have violated the rules of international law. Obviously one cannot combat an evil with another evil, adding evil to evil. If the international community, drawing its inspiration from international law and in particular the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, were to judge that a recourse to force is opportune and proportionate, it should happen within the framework of the United Nations, after having weighed the consequences for the civilian population of Iraq, not to mention the repercussions that it could have for the countries of the region and world stability; if not, it would simply be the law of the strongest that is imposed. One can legitimately ask if the type of operation that is being considered is an adequate means for bringing true peace to maturity.

Also the Middle East continues to be an open wound. According to you, what are the base conditions for arriving at a stable peace?

First of all, that the arms fall silent. Then, that everyone respect the other and that person’s legitimate aspirations; that all apply the rules of international law; that the Occupied Territories are evacuated; and that a special internationally guaranteed statute be elaborated for protecting the unique character of the holy sites of the three religions in Jerusalem. The international community should then be more present on the ground for helping the contenders to see one another and talk with one another.

In this year the pope has insisted a great deal on condemnation of terrorism and the refusal of every association between religion and acts of violence. What effects have his teaching had in world public opinion?

I think that the numerous appeals of the pope in this sense have had the great merit of helping everyone to understand that a theology of terror cannot exist, that one cannot confuse some extremist groups that draw inspiration from Islam with the true Muslims. So many initiatives and declarations have repeated that there exists among Jews, Christians and Muslims a solidarity in the faith that must a source of reconciliation for all societies.

And the governments?

Many heads of state who have visited the Vatican have expressed satisfaction because the position of the Vatican has avoided every confusion and has managed to speak independently. Many in particular appreciated what the pope had to say to the international community last Jan. 10: “To kill in the name of God is a blasphemy and a perversion of religion, and I want to repeat this morning what I wrote in my message of Jan. 1. ‘It is a profanation of religion to proclaim oneself a terrorist in the name of God, to kill and violate human beings in the name of God. Terrorist violence, in fact, is contrary to the faith in God the creator of the human person, a God that takes care of humanity and loves it.’”

Did Sept. 11 change the relationship between the Holy See and the Islamic world?

I think that by now it is clear to all that struggling against terrorism does not mean combat against Islam. The American bishops, who deal with a vast Muslim community, affirmed this soon after Sept. 11. The pope and his collaborators have repeated it on many occasions. In this regard I would like to recall what His Holiness said to the representatives of the world of culture in Kazakhstan on Sept. 24, 2001: “I want to reaffirm the respect of the Catholic church for Islam, authentic Islam: the Islam that prays, that feel solidarity with those in need. Remembering the errors of the past, also recent, all believers must unite their efforts so that God is never made hostage to the ambitions of human beings. Hate, fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of God and disfigure the authentic image of the human person.”

Finally, do you believe that the fight against terrorism, in these 12 months, has been conducted effectively? Or is there something else to do?

The important thing is that by now no responsible politician worthy of the name and no religious leader can any longer justify terrorism, in whatever part of the world one might want to do this work of death. This is, in itself, a very important result. Certainly, the guilty must be punished and placed in conditions in which they cannot do harm. But we must be attentive to not confuse justice with vendetta, and to avoid that entire populations pay for the cruelty of those responsible for the attacks. Much remains to be done. The Holy Father recalled this last Saturday: we must combat the situations of violence and inequalities among peoples, put an end to unresolved wars, and inculcate in the young generations a culture of legality and of tolerance. The mass media in particular must be attentive to not spreading images that lead to distrust, hate, and abuse. Finally, the manner in which history and religion is taught in school is of the highest importance: if we want that nothing should be as it was before Sept. 11, it is indispensable to promote a culture of reciprocal respect.

National Catholic Reporter, Posted September 18, 2002