An anti-war French (what did you expect?) cabinet minister, Didier Julia, came up with the novel idea that the pope should throw a monkey wrench into U.S. plans to liberate the suffering people of that country by making himself, in effect, a hostage. Julia described this as protecting "humanity's values."
The usual suspects have chimed in supporting this nifty idea. Dr. Helen Caldicott (who is less keen on the pope's pronouncements about birth control), and East-meets-West guru Deepak Chopra have added their voices to Mon. Julia's call for the pope to hie himself to Baghdad. Chopra has suggested that the pope be joined by Dalai Lama and Jimmy Carter. Why not invite Peter, Paul and Mary, too, the folksingers, not the apostles?
This is not idealism, it is trying to use the pope to blackmail the United States and President Bush. Serving as a shield to protect the innocent (as when a mother gives her life to save that of her child) is an act of sublime nobility. But there is nothing noble (or even decent) about the loony pope-to-Baghdad movement. Because the underlying assumption is that the U.S. wouldn't dare harm the pope, this is just another trick, and a dirty one at that.
A great deal of the anti-war movement has been street theater and not morally responsible. Trying to use the pope as a tool of extortion, however, takes the cake. As is the nature of blackmail, though, it might be effective in the short run, putting decent people in an untenable position. Even those who share my desire to see Iraq liberated and America safe, would not want their country to drop a bomb on Christ's Vicar on earth.
Of course, the pope has brought this on himself. Catholics of my stripe have every right to be distressed when the pope, presiding over a church in disarray, sends his emissary, Cardinal Pio Laghi, to Washington to tutor President Bush on leadership. We have further reason to be saddened when the pope urges the president to submit to that collection of rogues and scoundrels known as the United Nations (hardly a hotbed of pro-Catholic sentiment!).
Through the last 2000 years, when it comes to politics, the Church has often gotten it right-Gregory the Great was great on the Barbarian Question-but the Church has also often gotten it wrong, too. Who today would defend some of the Church's temporal claims? This is one of those times when the pope is getting it wrong. Unlike Greg the Great, John Paul II seems not to know who the barbarians are. You probably have to bring it up in confession if you quote Christopher Hitchens, the English journalist and atheist, on the subject of the pope, but here goes. I wonder, with Hitchens: What it would take for the pope to denounce the murderous regime in Baghdad?
John Paul II is one of the great men of the twentieth century, but the nascent twenty-first century hasn't been so kind to him. The pope seems to have fallen for the sentimental notion the war doesn't solve anything. Sometimes it does. The pope asked Catholics to offer up their hunger Ash Wednesday for world peace. As much as I admire John Paul II, I offered mine, such as it was, for the liberation of Iraq and a swift and certain American victory. The Vatican has said that those who support war will be responsible for this before God. So shall the appeasers.