Nearly two years after conducting a vigorous international campaign against military intervention in Iraq, the Vatican reversed itself.
The Telegraph, Britain’s leading conservative newspaper, reported Oct. 10 that Vatican officials now support a multinational military presence led by NATO to restore order and protect Iraq’s nascent democracy.
The article's headline is telling: "Vatican buries the hatchet with Blair and Bush over Iraq." Before the Anglo-American invasion, Pope John Paul II passionately opposed President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who favored military force to make Saddam Hussein comply with the United Nations' demand for disarmament.
But as an anonymous Vatican advistor told the Telegraph, "there is a feeling that there really is no going back."
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state, described the reversal more colorfully.
"The child has been born," Sodano told the Italian daily La Stampa on Sept. 22. "It may be illegitimate but it’s here, and it must be reared and educated."
Four days later, an editorial in the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, Avvenire, written by Vittorio Parsi, a professor at the Catholic University of Milan and the newspaper’s foreign policy expert, bluntly outlined Vatican policy:
What (the terrorists) want is, in fact, not "Iraq for the Iraqis," but "Iraq for the assassins." Thus all of Iraq will become a colossal common area for fundamentalist terrorism, for the brigands of Ba'ath, and for the most extremist Shiite mullahs. The international community and the West, which objectively holds within this community the greatest share of power, culture, and responsibility, have the duty of blocking the realization of this plan. The Atlantic Alliance, with its attitudes and counterbalances, is the multilateral institution that can assume the onus of protecting the right of the Iraqis to express their political will by voting.
Rome’s stance goes beyond a resigned acceptance of uncomfortable facts or the determination to influence the issue. It reflects a gradual yet increased awareness – and fear – of jihadism’s growing influence.
Only three weeks prior to Parsi’s editorial, Vatican and Italian Catholic newspapers embarrassed themselves in their reaction to the massacre of children in Beslan. Neither Avvenire nor L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, described the terrorists as Muslim. Instead, L’Osservatore Romano began its account of the atrocity on Sept. 5 this way:
"The blitz of the Russian special forces left over three hundred dead, marking a tragic end to yesterday's seizure by a terrorist brigade of more than a thousand persons, most of them children, in a school in the north Ossetia town of Beslan."
That same day, Avvenire published four editorials on Beslan. One by Cardinal Dionigi Tettemanzi of Milan proposed more dialogue between Christians and Muslims. Two blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin; one by columnist Maurizio Blondet was especially vitriolic:
"Labeling nationalist combatants as Islamic terrorists has been a convenient justification for the most inhuman form of repression: one does not negotiate with terrorists or criminals. One uproots them."
Blondet included President Bush and Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon in his vitriol:
(W)hy is it politically incorrect to raise the same objections about the "born-again Christian" from Texas and the obese general of Tel Aviv? None of the three – if one considers well – is exempt from suspicions of having exploited collective fear for his electoral advantage, or of using the necessary restrictions of liberty brought by the ‘war on terror’ to silence his critics and adversaries.
Blondet also edits an extremist Catholic magazine called Effedieffe, in which he has accused Jews of controlling the White House and wrote that "Israel uses other human beings like flesh to be gnawed upon, because that's what its religion teaches: non-Jews ‘have no place in the world to come’.…"
Sandro Magister, who has covered the Vatican for more than 25 years, diplomatically challenged Avvenire’s audacity in the Italian magazine L’Espresso:
"It is striking that on the day following the slaughter in Beslan – an authentic September 11 of the Christian children – the newspaper of the Church of Rome and of Italy should have entrusted its principal political commentary to an analyst of such an orientation."
Front Page Magazine previously explored Rome’s response to jihadist terror in "The Vatican’s Pro-Saddam Tilt" and "Abu Ghraib Worse Than 9/11?" Governing much of that response has been an attitude of appeasement.
"There is a Realpolitik motivation behind this understatement from Vatican authorities and their newspaper," Magister wrote. "Silence on the Islamic origin of the terrorist offensive is the price paid to protect Christians from more serious threats, and in particular, the Christians who live in Muslim countries."
But on Oct. 2, the Vatican magazine Civilita Cattolica denounced jihadist terror in no uncertain terms in its lead editorial. Some excerpts:
"There is a tragic conceptual connection beginning from New York on September 11, 2001, and reaching Beslan, in North Ossetia, on September 1, 2004. It is the connection of terrorism of Islamic origin, which in three years has sown death in many places all over the planet…
"In reality, Islamic terrorism has not changed the goals that it has pursued since its origin until the work of Osama bin Laden: to fight the Jews and the "crusaders" (the Christians, seen as inveterate enemies of Islam); to fight against the Western world – and the United States...
"Terrorism has seen fit to demonstrate in this way that it will not stop even at the most horrendously ferocious acts in order to reach its objectives. This is all the more true as the question is one of striking the enemies of Allah…"
Such criticism is significant not only for its intensity but also because of its source. The Vatican’s secretary of state – and by extension, the pope – personally approves all of Civilita Cattolica’s unsigned editorials.
Rome also appears more willing to advocate a more assertive military presence against jihadist terror, within limits governed by international law. In his La Stampa interview, Sodano hoped that the United Nations would add a new principle to its charter: "the possibility, even the duty of ‘humanitarian intervention’ in extreme situations in which human rights are trampled upon within a country."
The "extreme situation" to which Sodano refers is the genocide in Sudan, which that nation’s Islamist government encourages. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., reinforced Sodano’s remarks in an address to the U.N.’s refugee committee in early October.
"International human rights and humanitarian law oblige governments to provide for the security and well-being of all those under their jurisdiction," said Tomasi, Rome’s former diplomatic representative to Ethiopia and Eritrea. "If, however, a state fails to or cannot take this responsibility … then the international community can and should assert its concern, step in and take on this obligation."
Tomasi’s remarks directly reflect Pope John Paul II’s thinking. In his message for the 2000 World Day of Peace, the pope said that "when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor, and political efforts and non-violent defense prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measure to disarm the aggressor."
Ironically, those words also could justify the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq, which the same pope vociferously opposed.
Tomasi’s remarks might also reflect the experience of Monsignor Cesare Mazzolari, the bishop of Rumbek in southern Sudan. Mazzolari – who has lived among Sudanese Muslims since 1981 and has witnessed such atrocities as the crucifixion of an enslaved Christian child who prayed and the forced conversion of Catholics to Islam – expressed his politically incorrect opinions in May to the Milan newspaper Il Giornale.
When asked whether the God of Christians is the same as Allah, Mazzolari replied, "No way! Where would the concept of the Trinity fit in? And Christ is certainly not the greatest of their prophets."
The monsignor even warned against the long-term ramifications of massive Muslim immigration to Europe:
"It will be the Muslims who convert us, not the other way around," Mazzolari said. "Wherever they settle down, sooner or later they end up becoming a leading political force. The Italians are intent on welcoming them in an easy-going manner. But soon they’ll realize that the Muslims have taken advantage of their good-natured spirit, allowing ten times more to arrive than what was originally permitted."
Mazzolari stated what many Vatican officials are afraid to admit: the "clash of civilizations" is here.
"This is just the beginning," he said. "The Church has defeated communism, but is just starting to understand its next challenge – Islamism, which is much worse. The Holy Father has not been able to take up this challenge due to his old age. But the next pope will find himself having to face it."
Mazzolari is not alone. Magister wrote that when bishops from around the world report personally to the pope, "many of those hailing from Muslim countries think just like Mazzolari. And, when in audience with the pope, some of these bishops even speak up about it."
Sodano, the Vatican’s second-most powerful cardinal, has been listening. "The big problem of the future will be our relationship with the Islamic world," he told the Italian daily La Repubblica on Oct. 15. "It is a challenge that does not only concern the Church."
Vatican observers created a saying to explain the cautious nature of Vatican diplomacy and the sluggish pace at which the church’s bureaucratic hierarchy moves: Rome thinks in terms of centuries.
Given the horrifying nature of jihadist imperialism, perhaps Rome is starting to realize that it doesn’t have centuries to act.