On Register Radio this week, I talked to the two Register writers who have been covering the situation in Syria.  First, I talked Register’s Rome correspondent Edward Pentin and then, in the second half, to Joan Frawley Desmond.

With Pentin, we started the conversation talking about the busy first week of September at the Vatican. This week Pope Francis has appointed a Secretary of State to replace Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

“It has been very well received he is quite a popular diplomat he is very well suited in his background and experience for the role,” said Pentin.

“He has been chosen, I believe, because he is very much of the same mind as the Holy Father. … He very much wants to reach out to those on the margins to be very inclusive and to bring in those who have been kind of excluded on the international scene, particular in relations with the Holy See. For example, nations like China. When he was undersecretary he was successful in reaching out to China.”

Parolin’s job also entails Vatican governance, which has been marred by scandal.  Cardinal Bertone the outgoing secretary of state took a positive view of his time as secretary of state but admitted the last two years have been exceptionally difficult and he described what he said were “crows and vipers” in the Vatican trying to thwart he work as secretary of state.

According to Pentin’s reports, it’s expected that Parolin’s background as a diplomat will help him handle the challenges of the position which many say were more difficult for Bertone because he had no prior experience in the diplomatic corps.

Also of interest this week at the Vatican, Pope Emeritus Benedict made an appearance. He met with former students and gave the homily at the mass with the group of 50 people.

“We really didn’t think we would hear from pope emeritus again or perhaps even see him. He gave a very touching homily. It was very much vintage Benedict really, very clear, very profound, and very wise,” said Pentin.

Then turning to the serious and pressing topic of the crisis in Syria, Pentin described Pope Francis and the Holy See’s stance: “There must be dialogue, no violence, no intervention in the military sense, the parties must come together to meet and dialogue, any military action will be futile [Pope Francis] said that in a letter to the G20 leaders, meeting in St. Petersburg this week.”

He said the Vatican is particularly worried for the Christians who are caught in the crossfire.

“The Vatican has been really on the front foot on this. They have actually have written a six-point peace plan which they gave to diplomats on Thursday when they had a briefing with all the diplomats of the Holy See…which surprised the diplomats because they’d never see this before,” said the Register's Rome correspondent.

Describing the Vatican’s six-point plan, he said: “It contains what they feel Syria needs, which includes relaunching the dialogue; making space for minorities, such as Christians but also the alawites,  Bashar al-Assar’s party and people who run Syria; creating a ministry of minorities, asking for the opposition to distance themselves from terrorist groups and that Christians should be part of any new constitution.”

He continued, “It was quite a forceful six-point plan which they hope will go toward restarting the Geneva two talks which are supposed to start at the end of this year. The Vatican is playing a key role in this and doing all it can, pulling out all the stops really, to try and divert conflict and bring them to a negotiating table.”

For more information, listen to the interview and it’s important to join the Vatican in prayer for this work.


Catholic Response to Military Action

Continuing the discussion on Syria, I talked with the Register’s senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond who has been covering U.S. reactions to the use of chemical weapons in Damascus that have killed more than 1,400 people, including 400 children.

President Obama has proposed a U.S. military strike on Syria that the administration hopes will deter future use of weapons of mass destruction by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Desmond explains that so far the Obama administration has met with Senate and House panels to lay out evidence that Assad’s government was behind the attack and to outline their proposal for military intervention that includes a limited strike with no plan for “boots on the ground.”

Congress’s concerns, that an attack could escalate the turmoil in Syria or that Assad’s regime could retaliate and thus greater military intervention would be needed, were address this week by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chief of staffs. Dempsey “acknowledged that while the administration hopes to make this limited, there are no guarantees, as there never is with military intervention,” reported Desmond.

Later this week, President Obama made the case at the G20 meeting for the U.S. military strike. He hopes to gain greater international support for the intervention but as of Friday Sept. 6 he’d had limited success. 

Desmond said, the White House’s plan “continues to focus on punishing and deterring future chemical attacks by the Assad regime.” She added that an added concern for the administration is that “if they don’t take the military strike opportunity, it could also embolden extremist groups within Syria and the region with fears that others would have access to chemical weapons.”

As for Congress’s role, a full week of debate is expected and Desmond said it could be several weeks off before a decision is made.

Said Desmond, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of Military Services voiced that “the military is concerned about resources available to respond to an escalation.”

Church’s opposition to military intervention in Syria has been unified. U.S. bishops have “taken their cues from the Holy Father.”

Desmond referenced Pope Francis’ letter to leaders at the G20 meeting, where he asked them to “lay aside futile pursuit of a military solution and work toward a negotiated piece in Syria and provide humanitarian assistance to refugees.”

“Some news reports … are suggesting it’s either support or don’t support the military strike,” said Desmond.

But, she continued, “what is very clear, what the Vatican is trying to do, and it’s taking an increasingly visible position on this issue, is say ‘No, there is not just a false choice of a military strike or not.’”

Summarizing the pope’s position, Desmond explained, that he his trying to caution not to have a military strike so “our consciences will be alleviated… he’s saying we really need something more ambitions.”

The Vatican is calling for “a negotiated settlement… [that brings] all the leaders to the table inside the country but also regional powers.” The Holy See is also insisting on humanitarian assistance.

The U.S. bishops have sent two letters to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and they have repeated this same message, she said.

In the final part of our conversation, Desmond and I talked about Catholic just war theory.  In order to meet the requirements of just war theory, there must be just cause, force must be the last resort, success must be probable and there must be legitimate authority to use force. 

In a recent Register article, Desmond describes what moral theologians say about whether the U.S. proposed strike in Syria meet just war requirements.

During our interview, she explains that Syrian church leaders have said that the intervention is not justified and at this point it is not going to help.

For just war, “the cause must have a reasonable chance of success and right there we have a response from those on the ground that have said it would not be successful and civilians will be in danger.”

Desmond also reported on other moral issues related to the intention of the U.S. intervention as deterrence and how theologians question whether deterrence is just cause for war.

For more information, listen to the show and read Desmond’s article “The Catholic Case Against a U.S. Military Strike on Syria.