National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Posted: January 15, 2004

Interview with Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo

January 14, 2004

By John L. Allen, Jr.

Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's foreign minister -- the formal title is Secretary for Relations with States - gave National Catholic Reporter an exclusive interview Jan. 14. It was his first major interview with an American newspaper since his appointment Oct. 8.

Following is the text of that interview.

NCR: The pope has called for a new international order, based on the experiences of the United Nations. What would be the most important elements of this order? How would it differ from existing structures or institutions?
LAJOLO: The pope has repeatedly emphasized the need for a "greater degree of international ordering," most recently in his Message for the 2004 World Day of Peace. His predecessors, from Pius XII to Paul VI, had also called for this. Pope John Paul II has also frequently spoken of -- once more in his recent Message for the World Day of Peace -- the positive role of the United Nations: he has noted its significant contribution to promoting respect for human dignity, the freedom of peoples and development.

The experience of the United Nations, to which the pope makes reference expressing his hope for a greater degree of international ordering, is, first of all, a positive one. If one reads closely No. 7 of the Message for the 2004 World Day of Peace, one will note two major points. First: the pope does not hesitate to speak of "the limitations and delays due in great part to the failures of its members." Here one can think of the international community's lack of response to the massacres in some regions of Africa. The search to find the adequate means to avoid such limitations and delays can no longer be put off. Secondly, the pope believes that the United Nations should become "a moral center where all the nations of the world feel at home and develop a shared awareness of being, as it were, a family of nations." It is clear here that the military and economic superiority of one country, while giving rise to a particular moral responsibility vis--vis other nations (the principle of solidarity), does not automatically translate into an institutional pre-eminence with the subordination of other members (the principle of equality). Simultaneous attention to these two principles would surely render the U.N. structures more acceptable and efficient.

The United States government believes that the United Nations is sometimes too cumbersome to provide the rapid response necessary in the war on terrorism. Is there a way to create an international order that is both multilateral and efficient?
We cannot forget that after the events of September 11, 2001, Security Council Resolutions Nos. 1373 and 1377 set in motion a system of international cooperation to eliminate the financing of terrorism, to control the movement of suspected terrorists, to avoid the creation of "safe havens" and to eradicate places of refuge. This system of cooperation is working. Also, the way in which the U.N. confronted the difficulties in Afghanistan, with Resolutions Nos. 1378 and 1383 legitimizing military intervention, cannot be characterized as "cumbersome." The complexity of the problems and the collateral effects which certain decisions can have on the world level call for prudence and account for certain delays. Even the technical advances in police work, border and finance controls, etc., which are capable of responding to new challenges, are inevitably complicated and slow to implement.

Certainly there is the need for prompt intervention, indeed prevention of acts of terrorism. Here also we see how justified is the pope's call for an internationally recognized authority, on the world level, supported and controlled by the member states of the U.N., and endowed with juridical competence and adequate means to act in a timely manner.

Some observers find it difficult to reconcile the Holy See's strong support for the United Nations on issues of diplomacy and peacemaking with its equally strong criticism of United Nations agencies on matters such as family planning, reproductive rights and condoms. Is there a contradiction here?
It should be obvious to all that the Holy See supports those actions of the United Nations or of its organizations that it considers good because they are at the service of humanity, while criticizing those actions it considers erroneous and harmful or even immoral. It is superfluous to note that the Catholic church is not against "family planning," but against a "family planning" that interferes with the sacred and exclusive right of the spouses and is not in accordance with nature. The Catholic church is opposed to all methods of "family planning" that are morally irresponsible. Here, as well as in numerous other areas, the church courageously dissents from the more widespread opinion, not only on the grounds of faith, but also according to reason itself. The church considers her doing this to be a great service to society.

The United States has long feared giving up its sovereignty to a stronger international body such as the United Nations. Is the position of the Holy See that absolute national sovereignty in the 21st century is an anachronism?
Sovereignty is synonymous with freedom. As the freedom of individuals is limited by law and the just needs of others, so it is for nation-states. The sovereignty of nation-states is their prerogative, which must be recognized. An absolute sovereignty of states is, however, a dangerous myth, the consequences of which are wars. Sovereignty, if accompanied by wisdom, knows how to limit itself; if accompanied by true moral force, it knows how to express itself in even greater vision, together with other states. This is the history of confederated states, like the United States of America, confederations of states and associations of states.

Furthermore, every international agreement implies, at the same time, the exercise and the limitation of the sovereignty of a state: the state enters into a binding relationship. It is always and first of all a question of the degree of such limitation and then a question of remaining true to one's word. Pact sunt servanda ("agreements are to be respected") is one of the first principles of international law, and the pope has forcefully called attention to this in his recent message for the World Day of Peace.

In his message for the World Day of Peace, the Holy Father says "the fight against terrorism cannot be limited solely to repressive and punitive operations." Does the Holy See believe that more needs to be done to address the social and political roots of terrorism? If so, what specifically should be done?
Undoubtedly, the pope has called attention to the need to teach peace. One can say that, faithful to the specific mission of the church, Pope John Paul II has been and is a great teacher of peace. His messages, year after year -- on the occasion of World Peace Day and on numerous other occasions -- have indicated what can be concretely done: it is enough to re-read the titles of the messages expressly cited in this year's text.

In order to eradicate terrorism, which, as an international scourge with vast, indeed planetary consequences, is a new historical phenomenon, it is necessary not only to single out and eliminate the centers that arm terrorists, but also to identify and correct their cultural and spiritual centers. At this point, I must mention the necessity, among other things, to ensure that certain schoolbooks used in some countries by which the young are taught to feel contempt or even hatred for people of other religions or diverse nationalities be duly corrected.

It is equally necessary to work on social causes that frustrate entire generations of young people, and not just them, in their basic aspirations for social justice and well-being. Some deadly pseudo-religious acts of incitement, such as suicide bombings, arise from the experience of the inability to change society: one cannot see a future worth working for. Here, international policy must intervene incisively so that most especially young people, in all countries, will be aware that it is only through peace and work that they will find the concrete possibilities for building a better future for their people and their country. Here, too, the pope has indicated some specific approaches. He has called for the establishment of a just international business and finance environment, effective international economic aid and also -- with requisite guarantees -- the cancellation or substantial reduction of the foreign debt of the poorest countries together with the transfer of scientific and technological knowledge.

Terrorism is a complex phenomenon that cannot be definitively overcome except by a series of varying yet convergent measures: religious, cultural, social, political, and matters of international law.

John L. Allen, Jr. is NCR Rome Correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, January 15, 2004

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