Beliefnet
Rome, Feb. 5--U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican James Nicholson suggested Wednesday the threat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses to America and theworld requires a new interpretation of the church's concept of a "just war."

Interviewed at his residence on a hilltop overlooking Rome shortlybefore U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United NationsSecurity Council, Nicholson differed from the view expressed by high Vaticanofficials that a U.S.-led preventive strike against Iraq would not bemorally acceptable. "The question is whether the threat is so great that it morallyjustifies taking preemptive action to interrupt it before you become avictim of it," the ambassador said.

Nicholson made clear he believes the answer is yes unless Saddamcomplies with United Nations resolutions. He described the Iraqi leader as a"murderous tyrant" armed with weapons of mass destruction.

A West Point graduate who served as an Army Ranger in Vietnam, theambassador said he believes President Bush, whom he described as "a man offaith," is no more eager for war than the Vatican is. But, he said of Saddam, "This man with these weapons and his history of using them in this era of terrorism poses a major threat to the people of the United States and the world, and this must be dealt with.

"He is expansionist, a tyrant, merciless," Nicholson said, accusingSaddam of summarily shooting members of his own Ba'ath party who disagreewith him, torturing children, gassing Iraqi Kurds and Iranian soldiers andblowing up Kuwait's oil fields when forced to withdraw from Kuwait duringthe 1991 Gulf War. "He has rebuffed the United Nations continuously in every resolutionthey've passed," the ambassador said.

Nicholson said the destructive power and speed with which an aggressorcan act today requires "changes in interpretation" of the church criteriafor a just war, leaving room for preventive strikes. "Can you sit and wait to take the first hit before you can respond when that first hit can inflict millions of casualties?" he asked.

To help him argue the point, Nicholson has invited conservativetheologian Michael Novak to Rome under a State Department speakers program.Novak, who was the Reagan administration's envoy to the U.N. HumanRights Commission and conferences on security and cooperation in Europe,will meet with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State and PontificalCouncil for Justice and Peace on Saturday (Feb. 8). He will speak on the"Just War Theory and U.S. Policy in Iraq" to an invited audience on Feb. 10.

In Washington, a group of 60 angry Catholic religious orders,theologians and the peace group Pax Christi USA, faxed Nicholson a letter inwhich they told him "your appointed theologian" misrepresents churchteaching. "We recognize that Catholic thought on this subject is not monolithic,"the two-page letter said. "There is a diversity of opinion, but it seemsthat with our bishops and others in so close agreement, a pro-war voice doesnot represent the voice of U.S. Catholics on this issue."

Although John Paul has said only he hopes war can be averted, rankingVatican officials have stated flatly that a preventive strike would not meetthe criteria laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church for a "justwar."

Those who have expressed this view include Cardinal Angelo Sodano,secretary of state; Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's foreignminister, and Archbishop Renato Martino, who served as the Vatican'spermanent observer at the United Nations for 16 years and recently becamepresident of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The church considers a war just if it is defensive, harm to civilians isminimized, no more force is used than is necessary to attain militaryobjectives and the aim is to achieve peace and justice, avoiding acts ofvengeance and indiscriminate violence. It also must be a means of lastresort.

Although the United States and its allies attacked Iraqi forces in 1991in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the Vatican ruled the war was notjust because disproportionate force was used against Iraq.

Nicholson noted that the pope in his Jan. 13 annual New Year address todiplomats accredited to the Holy See, asserted that the terrorist attack onthe United States on Sept. 11, 2001, was an attack on the world. "In my conversations with people at the Vatican," he said, "I reiterate that Saddam Hussein appears to us to be as dangerous as those other terrorists are."

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