Monday, May 26, 2003

Interesting Piece on the Pope and the Iraq War

From the New York Times:

Revisiting the Pope's Stance on Iraq

So the pope's words did not fall into an absolute void. But they certainly did not provoke any vast crisis of conscience or even, apparently, a serious setback for the Republican White House's much vaunted "Catholic strategy." Those who imagine that the Holocaust could have actually been halted by a clarion call from Pope Pius XII should take note.

The general impression is that many American Catholics were quite content to have a pope widely viewed as a peacemaker — even as they were equally content to disagree with him.

This is not a measure of waning Catholic belief. No one was more ardent in buffering the American policy against Vatican criticism than Catholic neoconservatives whose admiration for the pope usually knows no bounds. They emphasized that the pope's primary responsibility was to ensure that moral principles remained part of the public debate and that all peaceful remedies were given a fair chance.

On the other hand, they insisted, responsibility for making the factual estimates and prudent judgments needed to apply those principles always remained with laypeople and knowledgeable public authorities.

Vatican worries about the effects of the war were understandable, said George Weigel, the pope's semiofficial biographer and consistent defender. But "reasonable people can have different views about the effects," he said in an interview during the war.

Arguments like Mr. Weigel's are familiar enough. But they had usually been found in the mouths of liberal Catholic thinkers, who were now enjoying the sight of neoconservatives suddenly discovering important qualifications in their usual enthusiasm for papal leadership.

Beyond the inconsistencies revealed by this internal Catholic clash between liberal and neoconservative intellectuals, is there anything more to say about the pope's moral leadership in matters of war and peace, and its apparently limited effect?

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