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Volume 2, Number 47              January 5 - 11, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Pope Voices Opposition, His Strongest, to Iraq War

New York Times

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VATICAN CITY, Jan. 13 - Pope John Paul II today expressed his strongest opposition yet to a potential war in Iraq, describing it as a "defeat for humanity" and urging world leaders to try to resolve disputes with Iraq through diplomatic means.

"No to war!" the pope said during his annual address to scores of diplomatic emissaries to the Vatican, an exhortation that referred in part to Iraq, a country he mentioned twice.

"War is not always inevitable," he said. "It is always a defeat for humanity."

Wondering aloud what to say "of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq," he added: "War cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option, and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations."

The pope had previously articulated concerns about an American-led attack on Iraq, most notably on Christmas Day, when he beseeched people "to extinguish the ominous smoldering of a conflict which, with the joint efforts of all, can be avoided." But in those instances, his message was largely implicit. He did not refer to Iraq by name, and his words were not as blunt.

Today's remarks came as the United States continued a buildup of military forces in the Middle East, and they exemplified international leaders' apprehensions and attempts at political and moral suasion.

The pope's comments, delivered in French with the Vatican providing a translation into English, also recalled his opposition to the Persian Gulf war in 1991. His refusal to support that effort strained diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the United States at the time.

What the pope said today was not surprising; he has consistently decried a range of wars throughout his 24-year-long papacy, often without immediate or discernible effect on events.

But after the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, he said nations had a moral and legal right to defend themselves against terrorism. He did not condemn the bombing of Afghanistan, although he did say that such military actions must be aimed solely at people with "criminal culpability" and not whole groups of innocent civilians.

In speaking out about Iraq today, he echoed concerns raised around the world about the wisdom of a potential war with Iraq.

Wilfrid-Guy Licari, the Canadian ambassador to the Holy See, said the pope's voice would stand out as an especially resonant one. "It is putting extra pressure, because he's one of the only moral voices left in the world with credibility," he said.

He added that the pope's comments reflected the Vatican's growing worry about, and preoccupation with, the situation in Iraq. In the last month, an increasing number of Vatican officials have raised questions about the morality, necessity and consequences of a war in Iraq.

R. James Nicholson, the American ambassador to the Holy See, also noted that the pope "speaks with a great deal of credibility and moral authority," adding, "The United States listens."

But he said he did not interpret the pope's remarks as an indication that the Vatican and the United States stood apart on Iraq.

"If you examine carefully what the pope said, he said that war is not always inevitable, and we agree," Mr. Nicholson said, adding that Saddam Hussein can prevent an attack on Iraq if he complies fully with weapons inspections and eliminates any weapons of mass destruction.

The present and future question before the Vatican, he said, was whether there was "sufficient provocation" for the United States to take military action against Iraq.

"The answer to that," Mr. Nicholson acknowledged, "may remain something that we don't agree on."

The pope's comments on Iraq were contained in a wide-ranging speech that traversed the globe, reflecting on signs of desperation and hope on various continents, and also touched on social issues.

John Paul made special note of a series of expulsions from Russia of Catholic priests, a point of keen discord between the Vatican and Moscow. He called the expulsions "a cause of great suffering for me," adding, "The Holy See expects from the government authorities concrete decisions which will put an end to this crisis."

He nodded to a series of recent scientific claims by mentioning human cloning, saying it, along with abortion and euthanasia, "risk reducing the human person to a mere object."

January 13, 2003


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