Pope to Ask Bush for Radical Shift in Policy, Says Cardinal Laghi

Changes Sought in Approach to Iraq and Holy Land

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 13, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II will ask U.S. President George Bush to stop basing his policies in Iraq and the Holy Land on recourse to force, when they meet June 4, a cardinal says.



"We are at the edge of a precipice and we must stop," said Cardinal Pio Laghi, a one-time papal nuncio in the United States, in statements to 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," he said.

Cardinal Laghi, who was nuncio in the United States from 1980 to 1990 and who helped establish diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Washington, visited Bush in March 2003 on behalf of the Pope to ask the president not to engage in a "preventive war."

"'Stop' is the cry expressed by the Church in the name of abused humanity," the 81-year-old cardinal told the newspaper, which published his comments today.

"The United States must also stop and I think it has the strength to do so. It must re-establish respect for human beings and return to the family of nations, overcoming the temptation to act on its own," he said.

"If it does not stop, the whirlwind of horror will involve other peoples and will lead us ever more to the abyss," said the cardinal.

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, "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 said.

He added that he had not expected the news on the tortures in Iraq.

"I was afraid that the war would make the plague of terrorism more violent, as the Pope said, and that there would be cruel massacres," the cardinal said. "But I did not expect the torture of prisoners."

"I love the United States and I did not imagine this madness was possible. I am dismayed. I have American friends who are holding their heads in their hands and I with them," he added.

Cardinal Laghi, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Catholic Education, said that Bush's visit to the Pope at so critical a time is a good sign.

"I don't think it is orchestrated, that is, in view of the presidential elections," the cardinal said. "If there was a time when it was difficult for him to ask for a meeting with the Pope, it is precisely now. And yet, he has asked for it. I think he has requested it twice and that he has changed his agenda to make it possible."

"We must see in Bush's meeting with the Pope, that of the successor of the president of the United States who in 1944 ordered the liberation of Rome. That event re-established in Rome the law of nations. The Successor of the Pope of that time will express his gratitude to the successor of the then president," Cardinal Laghi explained.

"At the same time, he will be able to tell him that the United States' options at present are not re-establishing the law of nations in the Middle East," the cardinal said. To re-establish 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," he suggested. "And priority should be given to the Israeli-Palestinian question, which is the first source of terror."

He added that "the forces present in Iraq not only must not be in fact under the command of the United States, but they must not even give the impression that they are."

The cardinal concluded: "There should be a multilateral presence, which is not under those who organized and wanted the war."