December 17, 2003,
The Italian newspaper Il Foglio ran a piece Dec. 16 about the frustration at the Vatican, at the secretariat of state, with the imprudent, irascible anti-Americanism of Cardinal Martino, an unfortunate recent appointment (late last year) to the Council for Justice and Peace, who has not ceased being an embarrassment to his superiors.
When I was in Rome last February, Cardinal Martino was already under heavy fire for his intemperate and irrepressible anti-Americanism. Even those who before the war leaned more to the French/German position than to the American were dismayed by his uncalled-for comments.
Il Foglio pointed out today that Cardinal Sodano, the secretary of state (the official who functions something like a prime minister for the Vatican, the top leader of administration domestic and foreign), not only changed the whole title of the document on World Peace released today but also edited out the most offensive passages of Cardinal Martino, from whose department the draft arrived in the last few days.
The title, for example, went from "International Law, a Way of Peace," to the less ideological "An Ever Timely Commitment: Teaching Peace." Other rhetorical flourishes were also edited out, according to Il Foglio.
The big Vatican news of the past month has been the major change in the way Islamic terrorism has been directly confronted, with gloves-off honesty in the Jesuit periodical Civilta Cattolica, whose pages are always cleared by the secretariat of state. Over a third of the Christians of the Middle East have been driven out during the past decade, the journal reports, and it lists many abuses by extremists, against the background of much greater tolerance in the past. It also analyzes carefully just how the extremists function in practice.
The immense relief experienced by the Catholic community in Iraq since the fall of Saddam has not gone unappreciated at the Vatican. In general, now that the American-led Coalition has acted firmly and with far better results than predicted last February by various spokesmen in the Vatican (they did not all speak with one voice), the Vatican has tried to help with the transition to a more just, peaceful, tolerant, and democratic Iraq.
The pope in particular never sided against the Americans, although without doubt he worked and prayed so that war would not in the end be necessary. He took pains to be clear that he is not a pacifist. (He had, after all, encouraged military action to relieve Kosovo of genocide and Croatia of intense suffering). He hoped America would not go to war.
For myself, I am glad that in no way could the Vatican at that time have been seen as fomenting a war of "the Christians" against an Arab nation. On the contrary, the pope's voice was the most audible and constant voice against war. To my mind, that is as it should be. The last thing we would have needed was a pope calling for war against an Arab nation.
I put on the table in the Vatican my own reasons why war might be necessary (not the reasons of the American government, for which I had no authority to speak), and also ways in which it could be avoided. (See here and here.) I thought I behaved in the way a conscientious layperson ought to behave, according to the teaching of John Paul II and the new Catechism. I gave reasons in conscience, in a field where lay competence has its own recognized validity. It would have been cowardly not to do so.
I believed, and hoped, that the pope understood very well why and how I acted.
As for Cardinal Martino, he has made clear on many occasions how bitterly he feels toward the United States on many fronts, not only in the case of Iraq. He has not been altogether prudent. He does not seem to be aware of how oddly his behavior comports with the far more nuanced and modulated views of those around him with greater authority than his.
The church is made of human beings, and such things are a matter of our daily life-"Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo dat gloriam!" as the chorus of Henry V gloriously puts it. "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name be the glory."
Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.