Reprinted with permission of Pax Christi USA.

As U.S. President George W. Bush prepares to meet with Pope John Paul II, Pax Christi USA is hopeful that the Holy Father will continue to stress upon the Bush administration the imperative for the U.S. to radically change the course of its foreign policy from a doctrine of preemptive war to a foreign policy grounded in a commitment to the common good, concerned with the life and dignity of all human persons and centered around bringing the community of nations to a shared place at God's table. The timing of President Bush's visit to the Vatican is cause for concern, especially in such a polarized political climate in our nation. Pope John Paul II has been one of the president's most vocal critics-especially regarding the war in Iraq-and political analysts have already identified the importance of courting the Catholic vote in this year's presidential election. The Bush administration is keenly aware of both of these facts and surely sees an audience with the leader of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church as an opportunity to repair the president's image with Catholic voters in the U.S. The concern then is that this visit with the Holy See is primarily about "show"-namely a photo opportunity to reach the pivotal Catholic swing vote-not substance. As evident in the ongoing criticism from Vatican officials, bishops from around the world and the Holy Father himself, there is a great divide between the Bush administration's worldview and that of people of faith who foster a worldview rooted in gospel nonviolence, in diplomacy over war, and in a preferential option for the poor. Cardinal James Francis Stafford, former archbishop of Denver, criticized the Bush administration's war with Iraq as "a moral failure" and warned that the U.S. war with Iraq had severely compromised future relations with the Arab world. Cardinal Pio Laghi, who in February 2003 had delivered to President Bush an appeal from Pope John Paul II to resist the temptation of war in Iraq, recently stated, "[The United States] must re-establish respect for human beings and return to the family of nations, overcoming the temptation to act on its own. If it does not stop, the whirlwind of horror will involve other peoples and will lead us ever more to the abyss."
Approaching this meeting as a political opportunity and ignoring the seriousness of the official Catholic Church's widespread criticism of his policies would be a terrible mistake for President Bush. To disrespect the leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics by treating him as little more than a photo opportunity for the president's reelection campaign would be the worst kind of political opportunism. Rather, Pax Christi USA hopes that this visit opens the president's eyes and ears to the truth of the Holy Father's assertions that preemptive war is a crime against humanity and that terrorism can only be overcome through the elimination of the causes of terrorism. These are concerns rooted in values which are at the heart of many of the world's religious traditions and shared by people of all faiths, both here in the U.S. and throughout the global community. In their document The Challenge of Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, "In this election year, we ask who has a place at the table of life in our nation and around the world." The policies of the Bush administration - and any administration, Republican or Democrat - need to be accountable to that very question. So far, President Bush's policies have run counter to the tenants of Catholic Social Teaching that form the very heart of Catholic political responsibility. Perhaps this meeting at the Vatican might serve as the beginning of a new relationship between the world's religious leaders and the Bush administration on matters of foreign policy. If not, then the world's religious traditions have yet further evidence of President Bush's dismissive attitude toward criticism based on religious values and beliefs, even when it comes from some of the world's foremost holy men and women.

Pax Christi International President and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem H.B. Michel Sabbah recently said, "We who know that true peace can never be achieved through bombs and weapons of war must appeal to the consciences of all those who lead our nations into the ways of death blindly - those leaders who with an erroneous religious conscience think that they are doing the will of God." As the Catholic community, especially Pope John Paul II, continues to speak out strongly against the war in Iraq and the failures of the war on terrorism, it is essential for President Bush to finally take such criticism seriously. With thousands of lives at stake in Iraq, Palestine/Israel and elsewhere, orchestrated publicity stunts intended to mislead the public-and in particular the Catholic vote-simply will not be tolerated.

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