VATICAN CITY—“The news of the death of Col. Moammar Gadhafi ends the too-long and tragic phase of the bloody struggle to overthrow a harsh and oppressive regime,” the Vatican said in a statement released this afternoon.

“This dramatic event,” the communiqué continued, “forces us to reflect once again on the price of immense human suffering that accompanies the assertion and collapse of any system that is not based on respect and dignity of the person, but on the principal assertion of power.”

There were conflicting accounts regarding the circumstances of the dictator’s death.

According to Reuters, one source said Gadhafi was captured alive and, in resisting his captors, was beaten to death. Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council told Reuters Gaddafi was killed following his capture when a gunfight broke out between his supporters and government fighters. He died from a bullet wound to the head.

The Holy See announced that it would henceforth recognize the interim government as the legitimate rulers of the Libyan people, in accordance with international law.

The statement made no other specific reference to Gaddafi, but instead focused mainly on the future.

“We must now hope that, sparing the Libyan people from further violence derived from a spirit of revenge or vengeance, the new rulers can undertake, as soon as possible, the necessary work of pacification and reconstruction, with a spirit of inclusion on the basis of justice and law,” the statement read.

It also expressed hope that the international community would be committed to “generously helping to rebuild the country.”

Since the beginning of the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime earlier this year, the Catholic Church’s small community, which runs a number of care centers and hospitals in Libya, has been tending to the wounded. The Vatican assured the Libyan people that they would “continue to offer its witness and selfless service, in particular in the field of charity and health care.”

The Holy See also pledged to work in support of the Libyan people “with the tools it has at its disposal in the field of international relations, in the spirit of promoting justice and peace.”

According to the Oct. 20 statement, since the fall of the regime in August, the Holy See has been establishing contacts in Libya. The Vatican’s top diplomats have been renewing close ties with their Libyan counterparts, with the apostolic nuncio to Libya traveling to Tripoli earlier this month to attend talks with the prime minister and foreign minister of the National Transitional Council.

During these meetings, the Holy See said it took the opportunity to renew its support for the Libyan people and the interim government and wished the new authorities every success in the country’s reconstruction. For their part, the new Libyan leaders communicated their “appreciation for the humanitarian appeals of the Holy Father and the Church’s involvement in Libya, especially through the service offered in hospitals or other care centers of the 13 religious communities” in the country.

Throughout the fighting, Pope Benedict XVI appealed for dialogue and diplomacy aimed at restoring peace to the North African country. He expressed particular concern for the civilian population caught up in the conflict, urging that they have access to humanitarian aid and calling on neighboring countries to be generous in welcoming Libyan refugees.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.