Attack on Iraq Must Be Avoided, Says Vatican Official

Archbishop Tauran Sizes Up Crises in Mideast, Russia and Europe

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Everything possible should be done to avoid an attack on Iraq, says Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states.



"The use of arms is not an inevitable fatality; what is more, no provision is made in the United Nations Charter for a preventive war," he contended Monday in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

"It is important that Iraq's leaders know how to regulate their political action according to the code of conduct that membership in the U.N. community imposes," the archbishop said.

However, he added, "nothing should be decided without the consent of nations and international institutions, from whence derives the irreplaceable role of the U.N."

The archbishop revealed that two months ago he expressed to the U.S. government "the need for dialogue and the appropriateness that it be the international community, as international community, that assumes the responsibility in face of Iraq's eventual default."

"A member of the international community cannot say: 'I will do this and you will help me, otherwise you stay home,'" he said. "If it were so, the whole system of international rules would crumble. The risk would spell a jungle. It could happen that tomorrow in a dispute with another state, a country could start saying: 'I am going to put things in order.'"

Archbishop Tauran used harsh words when referring to the threats coming from Washington to use the atomic bomb in response to Saddam Hussein: "It would be better not even to echo this hypothesis, as it seems so monstrous to me."

The Vatican official said that in his contacts with representatives of European and Arab countries there is a common conviction: "War is not the solution to the problem." The archbishop went on to clarify that it is "necessary to think of the repercussions that [war] would have in the Muslim world. It could unleash a sort of anti-Christian, anti-Western crusade, as some illiterate masses get it all confused."

Archbishop Tauran also took exception to the fact that Saddam's dossier presented to the Security Council can only be consulted in its totality by permanent members, whereas the rest can only read it in a "purged" version. "This seems very strange to me," he said.

"What worries me is that, while the inspectors are studying these dossiers, evaluations are already being made. It would be better to remain silent and wait for the final results of the investigation before pronouncing oneself," the archbishop added.

The Vatican representative is in favor of the International Criminal Court, to which countries such as the United States, China, Russia and Japan have not adhered, because he believes that "it is a safeguard for the respect of human rights in all places. Thus, all would know that they cannot do what they feel like. Keeping in mind, specifically, the experiences of the 20th century, it is important to have rules and to punish those who violate them."

In response to U.S. fears that its soldiers who are engaged in peace missions might be judged for "political reasons," the archbishop said: "Personally, and I speak for myself, I am perplexed. This would mean that there are exceptions to humanitarian rights."

According to Archbishop Tauran, to combat terrorism it is necessary to give back "to men the sense of the sacred meaning of life, as well as of the dignity of the person."

"At the same time," he said, "it is necessary to identify and uproot those causes -- poverty, unresolved conflicts, social tensions -- that are at the origin of frustrations and despair of movements and individuals, who see themselves almost pushed to the diabolical way of acting that a terrorist attack" entails.

Lessons should be learned from the Mideast conflict, where it "is sad to witness daily recourse to violence according to a perverse logic, which compares terrorism to expeditions of punishment in a crescendo that destroys every proposal and effort for peace," the archbishop continued. "To this disastrous situation is now added the prospect of a Christmas in Bethlehem during which free access to the Basilica of the Nativity might be impeded, limited or take place amid tanks."

In this connection, Archbishop Tauran clarified, "The position of the Holy See has not changed: respect of the other and of his legitimate aspiration; enforcement of international law; withdrawal from occupied territories; the international community's presence on the territory and an internationally guaranteed status for the most sacred places of Jerusalem."

The archbishop believes that there should be a return to the agreements reached by Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, because otherwise it "is to return to the situation of 20 years ago."

"I am concerned that there are those who do not wish to talk about a Palestinian state, because the peace process -- now practically dead -- was to have the objective of the coexistence of a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, exactly as established in the resolution of 1948," Archbishop Tauran said. "If this is not the objective, of what use is the peace process?"

In regard to Arafat, the archbishop said: "While the Palestinians consider him their representative, he is also, for the Holy See, the legitimate speaker."

The Vatican representative also analyzed the Russian problem, saying that "we are faced with a genuine anti-Catholic campaign."

"In April," he said, "the bishop of Irkutsk was not allowed to return to his see, and four priests were denied the renewal of their residence permits. At the beginning of December, three other priests suffered the same fate in St. Petersburg.

"A few days later, a Moscow paper, the Gazette, when classifying the religious organizations that threaten the security of the state, put the Catholic Church in the first place. Even before al-Qaida! On Dec. 14 I called in the ambassador of the Russian Federation to deplore this latest, sad episode."

"I hope that the Russian government, signatory of important international documents on religious liberty, will know how to take the measures called for to be able to give the small Catholic community in Russia the security, serenity and dignity to which it is entitled," Archbishop Tauran added.

The Vatican secretary for relations with states then proceeded to analyze the petition presented by the Christian communities of the Old World for the "Christian roots" of the Continent to be kept in mind in the future European Constitution.

"We request that three legislative dispositions be included in the constitutional treaty," Archbishop Tauran said. Namely, "the recognition of the churches' and religious communities' right to organize themselves in keeping with their respective statutes; the provision of a structured dialogue of the Union with the churches and religious communities; and respect for the status already enjoyed by churches and religious communities in member states, in keeping with national legislation."