Where Bush and the Pope Agree, and Disagree

Interview With Journalism Fellow Andrea Kirk

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ROME, FEB. 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II and U.S. President George Bush have serious differences over the Iraqi war, but still try to work together on common ends, says a journalism fellow who is writing a book on the subject.



Andrea Kirk, a recipient of the Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellowship, shared some of her findings with ZENIT after finishing the first installment of her work.

Kirk's research and analysis of the points of convergence and divergence in the social and foreign policy of the Pope and the president will appear as a book in the United States later this year. She is a free-lance writer published by Inside the Vatican magazine, Our Sunday Visitor and United Press International.

Q: The purpose of your fellowship research is to find convergences and divergences between the policies of George W. Bush and John Paul II. Which did you find more of?

Kirk: Generally speaking, the Pope and the president have a great deal of convergence in the area of social policy but quite significant divergence in foreign policy.

This president had a personal conversion to Christ, which is reflected in some of his policies concerning, for example, the faith based initiative and funding for abstinence education in HIV/AIDS prevention.

There is a running theme of behavioral change -- not unlike conversion -- in many of his social policies, which he has dubbed "compassionate conservatism."

But some analysts argue that Bush's approach to social policy is a distinctly Protestant one, and would not find much resonance with the Vatican. This theory has yet to be tested, however, because following September 11, President Bush became a self-declared "war president" and the war on terrorism took precedent over these social policy initiatives.

Q: What are the divergences?

Kirk: The divergences became apparent in the lead-up to war with Iraq, but were more than just differences over whether or not to invade Iraq.

Many themes in Vatican "foreign policy," or social teaching on international relations, emerged that demonstrated differences over the role of the United Nations, unilateralism, diplomacy, and just cause in war.

One policy in particular set the two at odds. In the time from the terrorist attacks on the United States to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration adopted a new foreign policy that most Vatican officials found they could not agree with on principle. Cardinal Ratzinger bluntly stated that preventative war was incompatible with the Catechism, with many Vatican officials suggesting that waging such a war with Iraq would then be illegal.

The Bush administration conducts its foreign policy and diplomacy in a very different style than the Vatican's. Of course, it's inherently problematic to compare a temporal power with a spiritual power. Having said that, however, the two are both working for similar stated ends, in their own, sometimes divergent, ways.

The administration has made an effort since 9/11 to be seen as an advocate of human rights, justice and freedom, particularly for the oppressed citizens of the Hussein regime. It framed the war in those terms by giving it the name Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Vatican, while being a consistent advocate of those ends, has shown its opposition to the means the Bush administration employs. The Pope has expressed it clearly in such statements as "The end never justifies the means" in his 2004 World Day of Peace message or "War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations" in his address to diplomats in January 2003.

Q: What are relations like between the Bush administration and the Vatican in the postwar situation?

Kirk: The recent visit of Vice President Cheney with the Pope, Cardinal Sodano and Archbishop Lajolo was significant, I think, because Cheney was one of the main architects of the operation in Iraq.

The conversation centered on how to build a peaceful society in there, as well as in Israel and Palestine. It's a tangible example of how the Vatican has shifted its mission from war-prevention to peace-building, as it would naturally do considering the aim of the Church's mission is always the welfare of the people.

The Vatican and the administration can find some common ground in peace-building because the Church is concerned with, among other issues, securing freedom of religion in the future Iraqi Constitution.

The meeting with the vice president also provided the Pope with an occasion to re-emphasize his belief in the necessity of international cooperation "in the service of peace," which we can assume implies working with the United Nations.

As I point out in my paper, however, the Vatican has been very critical of the U.N.'s inability to meet the challenge of preventing war through the exercise of its mandate and its resolutions.

Since the World Day of Peace message, the call for a reform of the U.N. has been echoed again and again by Vatican officials, with the intention of strengthening enough to resume its proper role. If it does not, the Bush administration may continue to fight the war on terrorism in its own way, if they retain the White House for another term.