2016-07-27
Rome, Feb. 5--U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican James Nicholson suggested Wednesday the threat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses to America and the world requires a new interpretation of the church's concept of a "just war."

Interviewed at his residence on a hilltop overlooking Rome shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council, Nicholson differed from the view expressed by high Vatican officials that a U.S.-led preventive strike against Iraq would not be morally acceptable. "The question is whether the threat is so great that it morally justifies taking preemptive action to interrupt it before you become a victim of it," the ambassador said.

Nicholson made clear he believes the answer is yes unless Saddam complies 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, the ambassador said he believes President Bush, whom he described as "a man of faith," 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, accusing Saddam of summarily shooting members of his own Ba'ath party who disagree with him, torturing children, gassing Iraqi Kurds and Iranian soldiers and blowing up Kuwait's oil fields when forced to withdraw from Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War. "He has rebuffed the United Nations continuously in every resolution they've passed," the ambassador said.

Nicholson said the destructive power and speed with which an aggressor can act today requires "changes in interpretation" of the church criteria for 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 conservative theologian Michael Novak to Rome under a State Department speakers program. Novak, who was the Reagan administration's envoy to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and conferences on security and cooperation in Europe, will meet with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State and Pontifical Council 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 in which they told him "your appointed theologian" misrepresents church teaching. "We recognize that Catholic thought on this subject is not monolithic," the two-page letter said. "There is a diversity of opinion, but it seems that with our bishops and others in so close agreement, a pro-war voice does not represent the voice of U.S. Catholics on this issue."

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

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

The church considers a war just if it is defensive, harm to civilians is minimized, no more force is used than is necessary to attain military objectives and the aim is to achieve peace and justice, avoiding acts of vengeance and indiscriminate violence. It also must be a means of last resort.

Although the United States and its allies attacked Iraqi forces in 1991 in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the Vatican ruled the war was not just because disproportionate force was used against Iraq.

Nicholson noted that the pope in his Jan. 13 annual New Year address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, asserted that the terrorist attack on the 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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