Iraq: Bush And Pope To Meet

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pope John Paul II will tell President George W. Bush to rethink his position on Iraq during their June 4 meeting in Rome, according to a former U.S. papal nuncio.

Cardinal Pio Laghi said the Holy Father will warn Bush that American forces in Iraq are damaging efforts to bring religions together and that Washington should have better understand of the Islamic world.

“We are at the edge of a precipice and we must stop,” the cardinal told the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. “We are told this by the horror unleashed by the tortures of Iraqi prisoners, the beheading of the American hostage, and the scoffing at the bodies of American soldiers.”

Cardinal Laghi was nuncio in the United States from 1980 to 1990 and helped establish diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Washington.

The Pope sent him to meet with Bush in March 2003, asking the president not to engage in a preventative war in Iraq.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things magazine, said the Pope and only the Pope would decide what he was going to talk to the president about.

But he said he doesn't believe the Holy See is floating a “trial balloon” by asking Cardinal Laghi to speak to the media in advance of Bush's visit to the Vatican.

Cardinal Laghi said he is certain that the Holy Father will repeat to Bush “the advice I gave him, which he decided not to heed. Now we see how wise it was.”

The Pope “will again express the more ample appeal he made in the message for the 2004 World Day of Peace,” the Italian cardinal continued. “In it, he called for a higher level of international order and warned that the struggle against terrorism cannot only be ‘repressive,’ but must start with the ‘elimination of the causes’ of the injustice.”

In that message, according to the cardinal, “it is stated that respect for life must always be honored and that the struggle against terrorism does not justify giving up the principles of the state of law, as the end never justifies the means.”

Cardinal Laghi also said that “the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq should be replaced by a multinational presence, which is not dominated by those who wanted and fought the war,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Russell Shaw, a Washington, D.C.-based writer and journalist, agrees with Cardinal Laghi's assessment.

“I suspect that the Pope would want to encourage the president to move faster and even more firmly in the direction of internationalizing the trusteeship over Iraq,” he said. “If that's the way the Pope's half of the conversation goes, that's not exactly calling on the president to change his policy. “

But Shaw says Iraq will only be part of the conversation between Bush and the Holy Father.

“I expect him to encourage the president to continue to work for peace and justice in Iraq and in the Middle East generally. I don't think he's going to only talk about Iraq. When he talks about the Middle East, he will explicitly or implicitly include Israel and the Palestinians under that heading because the Vatican is as concerned about what is happening there as it is concerned about what is happening in Iraq,” Shaw said.

A Matter of Timing

Michael Novak, the George Frederick Jewett scholar in religion, philosophy, and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Pope and president are on common ground when it comes to Middle East policy.

“No one more than the Pope has stressed the importance of human rights and democracy for freeing the human spirit and no political leader more than George Bush has worked toward democracy and human rights in the Middle East,” he said.

“For 50 years,” he added, “the Muslims of the Middle East have been the forgotten people in the arena of human rights. George Bush has changed that and launched a crucial humane vision in the world.”

Cardinal Laghi said that to reestablish law in the Mideast, and in particular in Iraq, requires “a cultural understanding of that world that is difficult for us and that I think our American friends have not achieved.”

“To bomb a mosque, to enter holy cities, to put women soldiers in contact with naked men, shows a lack of understanding of the Muslim world that I would label astonishing,” Cardinal Laghi said. “Bridges must be built with Islam, not pits dug.”

Mark Shea, senior content editor for, said he believes the Holy Father has not strayed from his position that the war in Iraq was unjust.

“Nobody in Rome was persuaded that this was a just war from the outset,” he said. “When I look at the administration's justification for war, I find myself in agreement with [Cardinal Joseph] Ratzinger and the Pope and much of the American episcopacy that this doesn't seem to add up to fitting just war criteria. That's a problem. I also recognize that now that we're there, we can't just bail.”

Shea said he also said he believes that Bush may have ulterior motives for his meeting with the Pope during an election year.

The president altered his schedule in order to make sure he didn't miss the Pope, who is scheduled to travel to Switzerland on June 5.

“He respects the Holy Father and genuinely wants to hear what he has to say, [but] it may be political as well,” he said. “He is running for reelection, so maybe he's hoping for a photo op. Much that this administration has chosen to pursue has become increasingly mysterious to me.”

But Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine, adamantly rejects that theory, pointing out that the visit will be part of an already-planned tour of Europe.

Bush will begin his trip in Italy with ceremonies on June 4, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Rome by American and allied forces.

Hudson acts as a liaison between Bush and the Catholic world.

“In [Bush's] mind, going to Rome means dropping by to see John Paul II,” he said. “It would be lack of diplomacy on his part not to seek to meet with him on such a visit to the city where the Pope resides. It's a simple as that. If the president doesn't reach out to the Pope on a visit to Rome, he can always be accused of avoiding him in a time when the Vatican has been critical of [him on] Iraq.

“He'd rather be criticized for reaching out to him than be criticized for avoiding him,” said Hudson.

Patrick Novecosky writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.