Vatican Shifts on Preventive War; New Foreign Minister Open to Bush Doctrine, but under U.N. Auspices

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, January 23, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Vatican Shifts on Preventive War; New Foreign Minister Open to Bush Doctrine, but under U.N. Auspices


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


The pope's new foreign minister, in an apparent shift from an earlier Vatican position, recently signaled surprising openness to the Bush doctrine of preventive force against terrorism--but under United Nations auspices, not the United States or a "coalition of the willing."

In his first extended interview with an American newspaper since his appointment in October, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, also issued a blunt, if indirect, call to the United States to work more collegially within the United Nations system.

"It is clear that the military and economic superiority of one country, while giving rise to a particular moral responsibility vis-a-vis other nations [the principle of solidarity], does not automatically translate into an institutional preeminence with the subordination of other members [the principle of equality]," he said in the Jan. 14 interview.

"Simultaneous attention to these two principles would surely render the U.N. structures more acceptable and efficient," he said.

The full text of the interview can be found on the NCR Web site in the Special Documents section.

Lajolo, 69, an Italian, was named to the Vatican's top foreign policy job to replace French Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, who was subsequently made a cardinal. Tauran had been the architect of the Vatican's opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and some observers claim to have sensed a slightly more nuanced stance under Lajolo.

His NCR interview may lend some support to that impression, moving the Vatican from near-absolute condemnation of the preventive use of force against terrorism to a kind of tacit acceptance, albeit under the U.N. mantle.

"Certainly there is the need for prompt intervention, indeed prevention of acts of terrorism," Lajolo said.

"Here also we see how justified is the pope's call for an internationally recognized authority, on the world level, supported and controlled by the member states of the U.N., and endowed with juridical competence and adequate means to act in a timely manner."

This strikes a somewhat different tone than earlier Vatican comments.

"The concept of preventive war does not appear in the catechism," Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's top doctrinal official, said Sept. 21, 2002. "There may be values and populations to defend in certain circumstances, but [the catechism] proposes a very precise doctrine on the limits of these possibilities."

On Oct. 1, 2002, the director of Vatican Radio, Jesuit Fr. Pasquale Borgomeo, bluntly said preventive war would be a "harsh blow to international law."

Yet if the Bush administration can take cheer from Lajolo's attitude on preventive force, there remains a clear difference on the role of the United Nations.

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