John Paul vs. George W.:
Conservative Catholics in a Bind?
Can faithful Catholics support President Bush's position on Iraq? Yes--especially given Rome's woolly thinking on the war.
BY: Tom Bethell
We have a president who seems determined to go to war with Iraq and a Pope who is doing all in his power to avert that war. What is the conservative Catholic to think? Let's assume for the sake of argument that we are talking about someone who agrees with the Pope about what a Catholic in good standing is expected to believe and to practice, and who also voted for (or generally supports) President Bush.
Should this person follow the President? Or the Pope? How is he, or she, to resolve this quandary?
Let me discuss this from my own perspective. I hope to make it clear that there is no real moral dilemma here. As to my beliefs, I certainly meet the first condition. I accept what the Pope says, and what the Church teaches, in matters of faith and morals. I go to Mass on Sunday and try to live as a practicing Catholic. I believe in the Creed that we recite at Mass. I also supported George Bush against Al Gore.
Do I agree with President Bush about the threat that Saddam Hussein presents to the world? My response is more ambiguous. He may be right, but he may also be quite wrong. It may be that Saddam Hussein in fact has no "weapons of mass destruction" (how tiresome it has become to repeat that misleading cliché). And if he does have them, it may also be that he has no intention of unleashing them upon the world. My own guess is that he has no such intention.
My beliefs about the looming war have been well put by David Ignatius in the Washington Post:
It could be a great success that opens a glorious new chapter in the history of the Arab world, as I have long hoped. Or it could be a frustrating killing ground that would embolden America's adversaries and endanger the United States and its allies, as many critics have warned." [David Ignatius, Washington Post Jan 17, 2003]
I don't see how anyone can deny this statement of uncertainty. And because of this great uncertainty, I cannot repose much faith in the judgment of President Bush and his "key group of advisers," as Thomas Friedman described them.
Nonetheless, in the conflict between the President and the Pope, I have no hesitation in saying that the Pope's remarks about war and peace will play little or no role in influencing my own opinion as to what course of action is best for the country.
Let us examine the remarks of the Pope and his envoys, particularly Pio Laghi (a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S.) and Roger Etchegaray of France. Cardinal Laghi saw Bush in Washington last week and Cardinal Etchegaray met with Hussein in Baghdad.