The Vatican and the United States were close allies during the 1980s phase of the cold war. Republican President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II seemed to campaign shoulder to shoulder to oppose Soviet communism, especially in the pontiff's homeland of Poland, and to combat abortion.
Republicans thought they still had the inside track on good relations with Catholic leaders in Rome during the era of Bill Clinton, whom conservatives assaulted for not standing up for family values.
But, according to best-selling American author John Allen, arguably the world's leading commentator on the relationship between the Vatican and the U.S., the close-knit days brae ended, to the surprise and unease of the Republican administration and its supporters.
It's because of Iraq.
President George W. Bush and his advisers nearly ignored the Vatican when it pulled out all the diplomatic stops to convince the U.S. to avoid invading oil-rich Iraq. The resulting occupation of the country has opened up a big gulf between the pope and Washington, says Allen.
"I believe that if a secret ballot were to be held in the Vatican, Kerry' would beat Bush 60-40," Allen said in a preelection interview from Rome where he files regular reports to 50,000 online readers, the National Catholic Reporter and a host of English-language media, including National Public Radio and CNN.
"This is hard for a lot of American Catholics to believe, but around here what is perceived as the negative impact of Bush's foreign policy tends to outweigh his pro-life stance," Allen said from his office near the Vatican.
The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq not only revealed a schism between the Vatican and Washington over the definition of a "just war," Allen says, it also highlighted longstanding tension between differing values advanced by Rome and America. While the Catholic Church attempts to stand up for the common good, Allen says, more Vatican officials are becoming wary of the way U.S. culture stresses "exaggerated individualism," "hyperconsumption" and "narcissism."
The final chapter of Allen's new book, All the Pope's Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks (Doubleday), details how the Vatican and Bush, an evangelical Christian, came to philosophical blows over Iraq.
It didn't have to be this way, Allen says. Along with much of the Western world, the Vatican sympathized with Americans after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It also supported the U.S. when it waged war on terrorists in Afghanistan.
But solidarity began to crumble when the U.S. jailed 600 Taliban prisoners at Guautanamo Bay in Cuba without recognizing them as prisoners of war. A 2003 editorial in Civilta Cattolica, approved by the Vatican, denounced the incarcerations. The editorial also questioned U.S. and British motivations for taking out Saddam Hussein. …