Catholic? Or not, what do you think?

    March 6, 2003

    Catholics Debating: Back President or Pope on Iraq?


    cLEAN, Va., March 5-As Ash Wednesday dawned gray and misty over St. John's Parish, 12 Roman Catholics set off after the 6:30 a.m. Mass, as
    they do every weekday, for coffee, fellowship and argument at a nearby Starbucks.

    No scones or pastries today, they told the servers at the counter. Pope John Paul II asked all Catholics to fast and pray on Ash Wednesday for peace,
    especially in Iraq. The ash still dark on their foreheads, the parishioners offered a prayer before downing their caff lattes.

    On the prospects of war with Iraq, almost all of them find themselves in a bind: as conservative Catholics, they follow the pope, but as conservative Americans,
    they support the president. They, like many other religious Americans, are more deeply indecisive and ambivalent than their religious leaders appear to be.

    The pope has repeatedly appealed to world leaders to avoid a war, and today a papal envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, carried the message directly to President
    Bush. Last week, Catholic bishops in the United States issued their third antiwar declaration of the last four months.

    "Read the pope's last statement," said Brian J. Doherty, 44, a union official and outspoken antiwar voice at the session. "Our Holy Father said we are on our way
    to giving in to the logic of war. He warned us about falling into this trap."

    Charles R. McCarthy, a corporate lawyer who is 64, quipped, "We may go to war with the Vatican, who knows." He added somberly, "I am for this war, but
    I'll tell you, we are on shaky ground ecclesiastically."

    Religious leaders of nearly every denomination and faith have condemned an American attack on Iraq. Only the Southern Baptist Convention and some
    evangelical and Pentecostal leaders have rallied behind the president. Jewish leaders are deeply split.

    In religious journals, seminaries and informal discussions like this coffee after Mass, the prospect of a pre-emptive attack on Iraq has set off an intense debate
    among people of faith over whether such a war would qualify as a "just war" in Christian teaching.

    "The rest of the world sees us as a big bully," said Lucas Gallegos, 80, a retired pastry chef who travels frequently to Europe to teach his craft. "But if we can
    come out of this and show the world that we didn't go in there to conquer and take the spoils, but to bring about peace, then we will show that it was a just war."

    The regulars at the coffee circle here range in age from 32 to 84; most are men, and while many work as lobbyists or government staff members across the
    Potomac River in Washington, there are also two union officials, a retired dermatologist and his daughter, a teacher. They are members and daily communicants
    in a conservative parish in the conservative diocese of Arlington, one of only two Catholic dioceses in the United States that still bans altar girls.

    Polls have shown that while many American Catholics revere the pope, they disregard church teaching on issues like birth control and the death penalty.

    The principles of a "just war" were first developed by St. Augustine in the fifth century and expanded upon by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. For a war to be
    considered just, it must meet the following criteria: have a just cause, meaning that it confronts a danger beyond question; be declared by a legitimate authority
    acting on behalf of the people; be driven by the right intention, not ulterior economic or other motives; be the last resort; be proportional, so that the harm
    inflicted does not outweigh the good achieved; and have a reasonable chance of success.

    Today and Tuesday after dawn Mass, St. John's parishioners settled into velveteen club chairs at Starbucks and whittled down the just war principles until the
    point of contention was reduced to whether an attack on Iraq was a pre-emptive offense or defensive.

    Several argued that in an age of biological warfare and nuclear weapons, the traditional understanding of just war theory had grown obsolete and was due for

    "You have already seen the damage that can be inflicted, and that was 9-11, so what more convincing do you need?" William C. Doherty Jr., Brian Doherty's
    father, who is 76 and retired from working in the labor movement said at the Tuesday session.

    Mr. McCarthy, the lawyer, said, "Kind of Crusade-like, isn't it?"

    On Tuesday morning, the group was joined by their pastor, the Rev. Edward C. Hathaway, who has been in the parish for three years. His father was a Navy
    pilot and his two older brothers went to the Air Force Academy, he said, "So maybe I'm more trusting" when the commander in chief says war is necessary.

    He asked questions and floated the notion that war could be seen not as a pre-emptive strike, but a continuation of the Persian Gulf war, which was never
    completed because Saddam Hussein failed to disarm.

    He told the group that the pope is not a pacifist, but said he was not surprised at the pontiff's interventions to prevent war.

    "You're never going to hear the Holy Father say, go to war. You can wait forever to hear that," Father Hathaway said.

    At that, Bill, 37, a government relations specialist who would not give his surname for fear of his employer's disapproval, said, "I expect the Holy Father to pray
    for peace, and the U.S. Marines to bring it about."

    Last Sunday, the homily at St. John's was delivered by the Rev. Cosmas R. K'Otienoh, a Kenyan priest serving as a pastor in residence. He lost friends in the
    bombing of the United States embassy in Nairobi and moved to the Washington area only to experience the terror of Sept. 11 from a Metro train.

    However, he gently suggested that although the American goal of ridding the world of a tyrant is noble, it may not justify the risk of harming Iraqi civilians, of
    whom "50 percent are 15 years and younger."

    Afterward, Father K'Otienoh said, about half the parishioners who responded thanked him, but the other half said he was misguided.

    He said in an interview that he understood the mixed reception.

    "On the one hand they take the teachings of the Holy Father very seriously, and on the other hand, there is this actual threat, particularly after Sept. 11, that has
    put people on edge, and I can understand those fears," Father K'Otienoh said. "It's a tall order for many Catholics to say, let's listen to the Holy Father."

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    Pope to Bush: Go into Iraq and You Go Without God
    Capitol Hill Blue

    Wednesday 5 March 2003

    Pope John Paul II has a strong message for President George W. Bush: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.
    But the President told the pope's envoy the leader of the world's Catholics is wrong.

    Pleading for peace, an emissary from Pope John Paul II questioned Bush Wednesday on whether he was doing all he
    could to avert what the envoy called an "unjust" war with Iraq.

    Bush said removing Saddam Hussein would make the world more peaceful.

    The president met with Cardinal Pio Laghi, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States and a Bush family friend, on
    Ash Wednesday, the start of the Christian Lenten season of penance and spiritual renewal leading up to Easter.

    Bush told the envoy in a 40-minute meeting that "if it comes to the use of force, he believes it will make the world better,"
    said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who attended the private meeting. "Removing the threat to the region will lead to
    a better, more peaceful world in which innocent Iraqis will have a better life."

    Laghi came bearing the pope's message: A war would be a "defeat for humanity" and would be neither morally nor legally

    The Pope also questioned the President's statements invoking God's name as justification for the invasion.

    "God is a neutral observer in the affairs of man," the Pope said. "Man cannot march into war and assume God will be at
    his side."

    In Rome, the pope called for "common efforts to spare humanity another dramatic conflict."

    The Vatican stands by its view that a pre-emptive strike on Iraq is immoral unless backed by the United Nations, Laghi
    "It's illegal, it's unjust," Laghi told reporters after the session with Bush.

    "There are still peaceful avenues within the context of the vast patrimony of international law and institutions which exist
    for that purpose," Laghi said. "There is great unity on this grave matter on the part of the Holy See, the bishops in the United
    States, and the church throughout the world," he said.

    Laghi posed a series of questions to Bush that reflected the differences between the White House and the Vatican on Iraq,
    said a senior administration official. The questions included the importance of an international effort to confront Saddam and
    what the envoy said was a gulf between the Western and Muslim worlds.

    Bush disagreed on the last point, saying the U.S. effort to expand education opportunities to children had brought the
    Muslim and Western nations closer together, the administration official said.

    Laghi delivered a letter in which the pope urged Bush to listen carefully to the envoy. Neither the letter nor the envoy
    specifically urged Bush to avoid war, the U.S. official said.

    Laghi said he left the White House with hope "in spite of the fact that the situation is what it is."

    Bush has rarely met with opponents of his Iraq stand in recent months. He almost always meets with leaders who agree
    with him, but has spoken by phone with adversaries.

    Bush, a Methodist, has taken pains throughout his presidency to court Catholic voters, who made up a quarter of the
    electorate in 2000 and split their votes between Bush and Democrat Al Gore. White House officials pointed out that Bush and
    the envoy also discussed abortion and cloning, two issues on which the administration and the Vatican generally agree.

    The polite exchange described by White House aides reflected the careful language of diplomacy used by both sides,
    even when they disagree.

    In a May visit to the Vatican, Bush told the pope he was "concerned" about the Catholic church's standing in America,
    where the church has been rocked by sex-abuse scandal.

    (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a
    prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)
  2. 7 Comments

  3. by   VivaLasViejas
    I'm Catholic, and although I admit I don't follow my church's teachings on many subjects, I heartily concur with the Holy Father on this one. Of course, the Pope's advice won't do any good since Bush isn't about to let his decisions be guided by a leader of a religion that's different from his own, but I'm glad he said what he did about the immorality of pre-emptive war and called Bush on invoking the name of the Almighty in pushing for it. If Bush would listen once in a while to someone who ISN'T kissing his patootie, maybe he'd learn something......but I'm afraid it will soon be too late for that.
  4. by   Mkue
    Catholic also, but don't agree with all of the teachings. I do tend to agree with a Catholic Religion Professor who taught that "war is the last resort" only if all other means have been exhausted.

    I personally don't agree with statements such as, "God won't be by our side". He is with all who look to him for faith and guidance and those who do not. I have been taught that He does not turn his back on anyone and I would be hard pressed to think differently.

    Last edit by mkue on Mar 7, '03
  5. by   Sleepyeyes
    Pentecostal-from-Catholic here, and I agree that there is not enough justification for this war.


    If they actually find the stuff they're looking for, maybe then. But for now... I have to side with the pope.
  6. by   emily_mom
    Originally posted by mkue
    Catholic also, but don't agree with all of the teachings. I do tend to agree with a Catholic Religion Professor who taught that "war is the last resort" only if all other means have been exhausted.

    I personally don't agree with statements such as, "God won't be by our side". He is with all who look to him for faith and guidance and those who do not. I have been taught that He does not turn his back on anyone and I would be hard pressed to think differently.

  7. by   pickledpepperRN
    I believe the Presidents Methodist church also stated starting this war would be against it's teachings too.
    Any United Methodist Church member know?
  8. by   Vsummer1
    If Saddam Hussein were persecuting Catholics instead of just Kuwaiti's, Americans, Kurds, Islamic women children men etc. and anyone else who he happens to feel needs a killing then I am POSITIVE the Pope would not feel this way.
  9. by   nursenoelle
    mkue- That is exactly it. Well said.

    I am Catholic, and during my prayer, I pray for peace . I also pray for our president, that he will do what is right and just- not in my eyes but in the Lord's.