War on AIDS, and the 1940s Fight Against Communism

Vatican Looking at Collaboration With the Global Fund

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, NOV. 6, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The offices of the Roman Curia tend to take on the personalities of the cardinals who run them. They can be somber and secretive with empty hallways and closed doors, or they can be open and lively, such as the offices of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers under the guidance of newly named Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán.

The council operates 52 international programs ranging from addressing the AIDS epidemic to mental health care. The cardinal, at the behest of the Pope, is particularly vocal on the issue of AIDS.

"When Kofi Annan came to visit the Holy Father a few months ago, he asked specifically that the Catholic Church give special attention to AIDS patients," said Cardinal Lozano Barragán, referring to the United Nations secretary-general. "The Holy Father then asked me to be the representative of the Catholic Church to the U.N. on the AIDS problem."

The Catholic Church alone is responsible for the care of 26.7% of AIDS patients worldwide, according to the cardinal, and the pontifical council is constantly looking for new ways and means to combat the problem, particularly in Africa where there are 38 million AIDS patients and three times that number infected with the HIV virus.

"We are looking at the possibility of collaborating with the Global Fund, headed by U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson as a way to provide for the needs of the poorer countries in Africa combating AIDS," said Cardinal Lozano Barragán. "They already give funds to the Lutheran Federation, so we are evaluating this possibility for the Catholic Church."

Is there any danger in accepting money from outside sources? I asked the cardinal.

"There are conditions -- about 30 pages of them," he responded. "But they are financial conditions. There is no imposition of ideology or practice."

One of the practices for which the Church has been maligned in the fight against AIDS is the teaching that condoms, as contraception, are forbidden.

"They say the Catholic Church is the greatest killer for this teaching," said Cardinal Lozano Barragán, "but this is a misconception. If you look at Botswana for example, a rich African country, 39% of its population is infected with AIDS, but it has the highest distribution of condoms."

"People think condoms mean 'safe sex,'" said the cardinal. "But the facts do not bear this out."

Nonetheless, Cardinal Lozano Barragán surprised me by saying there are instances in which condom use could be justified.

"The doctrine of the Catholic Church is very clear," he said. "To defend one's life against an aggressor, one can even kill. So a wife, whose husband is infected with AIDS and who insists on marital relations with her, and might therefore pass on the virus which would kill her, can defend her life by using a condom."

Would this apply also in cases of rape? I asked.

"Yes," said the cardinal. "Do you know how they fight battles in Congo? They send soldiers infected with AIDS to violate the women and thereby infect them and kill off entire populations. In those cases, the women have the right to defend their lives by using condoms. And they do."

"We must be very precise," continued the cardinal. "This doesn't mean condom use is justified in any other sense but defending one's life from unjust aggression."

Commenting on aggression of another sort, the cardinal noted that during the sex abuse scandals of the past year, his personal e-mail in-box was bombarded by the American media.

"Every day for several months," he said, "I received articles about the scandal from the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post at my private e-mail address. I did not request these articles and I don't know how they got my address but mysteriously the e-mails stopped when the scandal died down."

"I would not like to comment on the intention of such a campaign," continued the cardinal, "but it gives you an idea of what we went through in Rome."

"Fortunately," he said, "the sanctity of the Church does not depend on the personal sanctity of her priests. When Napoleon told the cardinal of Paris that he was going to destroy the Catholic Church, the cardinal wished him good luck saying priests have been trying to do that for 2,000 years and have not succeeded!"

Cardinal Lozano Barragán said his personal sanctity is tied to the Pope which he serves.

"I am not a Legionary of Christ, nor a member of Opus Dei," he said. "My spirituality is the spirituality of the pontificate of John Paul II."

"The Holy Father is very lucid," noted the cardinal about rumors that the Pope is no longer able to play an active role as head of the Church.

"I had the opportunity to see that just a few days ago," he said, "when I asked the Holy Father about a complicated problem we are facing regarding AIDS patients -- I cannot tell you the exact nature of the problem -- but it was something that required clarification. The next day I had the Pope's response, very clear and well thought-out, on my desk."

Could this response have been written by someone else close to the Pope? I wondered.

"No," claims the cardinal. "It was clear that the response came from the Holy Father personally, just as I had asked him."

"The medical doctors who advise my council have told me that Parkinson's disease does not affect the mind, and can even enhance lucidity," he said.

So the cardinal would not agree that the Pope should resign?

"The Holy Father can resign if he wants to," Cardinal Lozano Barragán said, "but given his understanding of the papacy and of his role it is unlikely. And given his continued lucidity, it is unnecessary."

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1940s Postwar Politics and the U.S.

It is always interesting to get a backstage glimpse of the Vatican's role in political maneuverings. As a spiritual authority, the Holy See claims to stand apart from governments and politics. Yet the Vatican is organized with an active Secretariat of State and makes no secret of its involvement in the political sphere for defending human rights and ensuring religious freedom.

The current issue of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit journal considered a mouthpiece of the Vatican's Secretariat of State, contains an article that demonstrates the delicate balance of Vatican diplomacy and sheds light on the history of U.S.-Holy See relations.

The article entitled, "The Holy See and USA Facing Anti-communism," publishes for the first time correspondence between the American government and the Vatican during World War II.

The article is a response to another article entitled, "Montini, an American Choice for Italy," published last Aug. 26 in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, which gave the impression that the Vatican under Pope Pius XII and Secretary of State Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Paul VI) were agents of the U.S. government in fighting communism in Italy.

While acknowledging that the Vatican did share information with the U.S. government regarding internal Italian politics at that time, the Civiltà Cattolica article takes issue with the fact that Secretary of State Montini is painted as an American "spy."

"The United States and the Holy See during those years found themselves fighting together the same battle against communism," says the article, "but with completely different modalities and strategic actions."

To make the point, it prints for the first time an exchange dated Jan. 15, 1946, between Pius XII's representative, Count Pietro Galeazzi, and Admiral Ellery Stone, the highest ranking American official in Italy at that time.

According to the memo, written by Galeazzi to the Vatican's secretary of state, the Americans asked the Vatican to organize a campaign to defeat the Communists in the upcoming Italian elections, mobilizing especially their parishes in the effort.

"Last October [1945]," states Galeazzi in his memo, "he [Admiral Stone] suggested to the Holy Father that the bishops and parish priests of Italy organize themselves better for the upcoming elections. Having said this to the Holy Father, who maintained that they were doing all that was possible, he had to frankly contradict him, criticizing in fact that they were doing very little, almost nothing."

What did the Americans suggest in particular?

"The secret to success," continues the memo quoting Stone, "is in mobilizing the feminine vote. Women are 50% of the vote. There is the key to success ... the greatest majority of Church attendees are women: They should be instructed and catechized immediately. Don't lose their votes. The parish priests should be given precise instructions by the bishops: Don't give in to criticisms by extremists who want the Church far from politics. It is the duty of the Church to enter fully into the political arena."

According to Galeazzi, he told Stone that "the Holy See cannot take part, or give instruction in this way, just as it would not intervene directly in questions of internal politics in the United States or France."

The Civiltà Cattolica article claims that "the Secretariat of State, to whom the memo of Count Galeazzi was addressed, marveled at the suggestions of the admiral, who, as a Protestant, did not understand the prudent and reserved stance of the Vatican authorities who had a different way of seeing and considering the relationship between Church and politics."

"It is therefore not at all true," concludes Civiltà Cattolica, "as some biased historians have for a long time maintained, that the Holy See took lying down (in this as in other situations) the 'orders' that were given to them by Washington on questions of national politics."

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Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at delia@zenit.org.