Vatican Will Not Support American War on Iraq. (Vatican Officials)(Cover Story)

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A growing chores of Catholic bishops from around the world, including five senior Vatican officials, has spoken out against the possibility of an American-led military campaign against Iraq.

Among other things, the comments suggest that if the United States moves forward, it will likely do so without the moral support from the Vatican its offensive in Afghanistan enjoyed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

The most direct statement of Vatican thinking came in a Sept. 10 interview with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, a Frenchman who is in effect the pope's foreign minister, with the Italian Catholic newspaper L'Avvenire.

Tauran insisted that any action against Iraq "should happen within the framework of the United Nations." He added that consideration must be given to the consequences for the civilian population of Iraq, as well as the repercussions for the countries of the region and for world stability.

Tauran's bottom line, though diplomatically expressed, seemed negative.

"One can legitimately ask if the type of operation that is being considered is an adequate means for bringing true peace to maturity," he said.

In a later interview on Vatican Radio, the host said a war with Iraq seemed probable. Tauran responded, "Let's hope it is not probable, because it would be a defeat for all humanity."

Four other Vatican officials spoke either directly or indirectly against the idea of war in Iraq at a Sept. 1-3 summit of religious leaders in Palermo, Italy, sponsored by the Sant'Egidio community. They were Cardinals Roger Etchegaray (French), Ignatius Moussa I Daoud (Syrian), and Walter Kasper (German), along with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (Irish).

Etchegaray, who functions as an informal papal diplomatic troubleshooter, and who has long been critical of the United Nations sanctions against Iraq, said he was "happy to see growing opposition" in the international community. "The threat coming from Washington is something that is simply unthinkable. There is no war, least of all today and least of all in the Middle East, that can resolve something," Etchegaray said.

Kasper, meanwhile, said there are neither "the motives nor the proof" to justify a war. Both men spoke in response to questions from reporters.

The criticism from Martin and Daoud was more indirect, and came in the context of prepared remarks on other topics.

Commenting on the response of the United States to the attacks of Sept. 11, Daoud said: "Every part of the earth suspected of complicity in terrorism has fallen under threat. Iraq now finds itself on the waiting list.

"Where will this campaign finish? Will it succeed in stabilizing an order of peace, preventing war with war, violence with violence, demanding the arms of the enemy through the use of arms?" Daoud asked. His conclusion seemed negative.

"In the end, the arms remain in the hands of a part of the world, and their presence expresses in itself an explosive situation," he said.

Martin, the pope's representative to the United Nations in Geneva, argued that a successful "war against terrorism" has to be focused on development and social justice. He made no direct reference to Iraq.

"The great weapon of the war will have to be that of trust and respect toward other people," Martin said. "The war against terrorism will not be won with some `quick fix' that resolves tensions for the moment, disregarding a sustainable future for all."

A final comment, also indirect, came Sept. …