Pope to Bush: Go into Iraq and You Go Without God
Capitol Hill Blue
Wednesday 5 March 2003
Pope John Paul II has a strong message for President George W. Bush: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.
But the President told the pope's envoy the leader of the world's Catholics is wrong.
Pleading for peace, an emissary from Pope John Paul II questioned Bush Wednesday on whether he was doing all he could to avert what the envoy called an "unjust" war with Iraq.
Bush said removing Saddam Hussein would make the world more peaceful.
The president met with Cardinal Pio Laghi, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States and a Bush family friend, on Ash Wednesday, the start of the Christian Lenten season of penance and spiritual renewal leading up to Easter.
Bush told the envoy in a 40-minute meeting that "if it comes to the use of force, he believes it will make the world better," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who attended the private meeting. "Removing the threat to the region will lead to a better, more peaceful world in which innocent Iraqis will have a better life."
Laghi came bearing the pope's message: A war would be a "defeat for humanity" and would be neither morally nor legally justified.
The Pope also questioned the President's statements invoking God's name as justification for the invasion.
"God is a neutral observer in the affairs of man," the Pope said. "Man cannot march into war and assume God will be at his side."
In Rome, the pope called for "common efforts to spare humanity another dramatic conflict."
The Vatican stands by its view that a pre-emptive strike on Iraq is immoral unless backed by the United Nations, Laghi said.
"It's illegal, it's unjust," Laghi told reporters after the session with Bush.
"There are still peaceful avenues within the context of the vast patrimony of international law and institutions which exist for that purpose," Laghi said. "There is great unity on this grave matter on the part of the Holy See, the bishops in the United States, and the church throughout the world," he said.
Laghi posed a series of questions to Bush that reflected the differences between the White House and the Vatican on Iraq, said a senior administration official. The questions included the importance of an international effort to confront Saddam and what the envoy said was a gulf between the Western and Muslim worlds.
Bush disagreed on the last point, saying the U.S. effort to expand education opportunities to children had brought the Muslim and Western nations closer together, the administration official said.
Laghi delivered a letter in which the pope urged Bush to listen carefully to the envoy. Neither the letter nor the envoy specifically urged Bush to avoid war, the U.S. official said.
Laghi said he left the White House with hope "in spite of the fact that the situation is what it is."
Bush has rarely met with opponents of his Iraq stand in recent months. He almost always meets with leaders who agree with him, but has spoken by phone with adversaries.
Bush, a Methodist, has taken pains throughout his presidency to court Catholic voters, who made up a quarter of the electorate in 2000 and split their votes between Bush and Democrat Al Gore. White House officials pointed out that Bush and the envoy also discussed abortion and cloning, two issues on which the administration and the Vatican generally agree.
The polite exchange described by White House aides reflected the careful language of diplomacy used by both sides, even when they disagree.
In a May visit to the Vatican, Bush told the pope he was "concerned" about the Catholic church's standing in America, where the church has been rocked by sex-abuse scandal.
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