April 25, 2003


The Word From Rome (John Allen, National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 2003)
[O]ne of the most interesting figures on the ecclesiastical scene in Rome is ... a professor of political science at the University of Perugia and an editorial writer for Italy’s most respected daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, named Ernesto Galli della Loggia....

Galli della Loggia noted that in John Paul’s United Nations speeches on peace, the pope had always placed his message in the context of human rights. Yet the pope has not used human rights language much during the Iraq crisis. Galli della Loggia suggested this may be because references to human rights would invite awkward questions about the brutal character of the Saddam Hussein government.

If this is true, then the Vatican would seem to be more attached to its anti-war stance than to preaching the gospel message against murder and oppression.
How does Galli della Loggia explain the Vatican tilt against the American position?

First, there are historic reservations some have always felt about the United States. Despite the fact that Pius XII was known as the “chaplain of NATO,” many Europeans in the Vatican have long harbored doubts about an Atlantic alliance dominated by the Americans. Such a system, they felt, would signal the victory of Protestant America over Catholic Europe.

Second, Galli della Loggia says that despite Bush’s sincere religious belief, and despite an alignment of interests between Washington and the Vatican on issues such as abortion and cloning, the cluster of Protestant “radicals” such as John Ashcroft in the Bush administration is troubling to some in the Holy See.

Finally, there is the desire of the Vatican, and especially John Paul II, to deliver a message of solidarity to the Islamic world, in order to avoid a long-feared “clash of civilizations” between Christianity and Islam.

On this third score, Galli della Loggia sees a subtle realpolitik calculation by the Vatican.

“They probably think that no matter what the pope says, American Catholics will be okay and the American administration will still see the Vatican as a great global institution. In that sense, there’s nothing to lose by coming out against the Americans, and everything to gain by siding with Islam,” he said.

None of these three reasons have any roots in Christian ethics. If these are, in fact, the grounds of Vatican policy, then they suggest a victory of human prejudices (European chauvinism, anti-Protestantism, loss of faith in divine Providence and a desire to manipulate Muslim sensibilities) over historic Christian teachings.
Galli della Loggia then made the interesting observation that it was the most Catholic countries of Europe – Spain, Italy and Poland – whose governments backed the U.S. on the war, while it was France and Germany, the birthplaces of Revolution and Reformation respectively, that sided with the pope....

Why should loyalty to episcopal opinions influence the laity, if loyalty to the Christian faith barely matters to the bishops?
We also discussed the future of Europe, currently locked in debate over its “constitutional document.” Galli della Loggia doesn’t understand the Vatican’s push for an explicit reference to the religious roots of Europe.

“If the Catholic Church wants to be a global institution, it doesn’t make sense to identify itself with its European roots,” he argued.

An excellent point. The Church remains far too Euro-centric. Europe has 48.1% of the cardinals, but less than 10% of regular churchgoers (see, e.g., statistics at adherents.com). Geographical diversification would strengthen the shared Christian faith while diluting the influence of parochial prejudices.
On the current breach between the United States and Europe, Galli della Loggia believes it is destined to remain. Europe has ceased to believe in war as an instrument of politics, Galli della Loggia said, because it is incapable of judging its own military past in positive terms. The United States, on the other hand, sees itself playing a global role in the promotion of democracy and human rights, and believes its use of force in support of these ideals is just.

As for the Vatican, Galli della Loggia says that the Iraq crisis exposed a fundamental weakness in its foreign policy – hesitation to confront corrupt regimes in the developing world.

“The Vatican wants to be a global voice of conscience, supporting developing nations,” Galli della Loggia said. “Often they express this support by spouting the same economic formula they always recycle, blaming rich nations for poverty. But the principal obstacle to social and economic development is not the West, but dictatorial and corrupt regimes that strangle their own people. Catholic missionaries and even the Vatican polemicize against the West, hiding local responsibility. They’re afraid of being tossed into the ‘Western’ mix if they make problems for these governments.”

“Ironically, the only governments the Church criticizes are in the West, where it knows it won’t have to pay any price because those governments respect human rights,” Galli della Loggia said.

The Vatican, in other words, is like CNN: in fear of murderous tyrants, it refuses to speak the truth about injustice in unfree nations. By quickly and willingly criticizing free nations, but remaining mute toward unfree nations, the Church's words become slanted in favor of tyrants and tyranny, and against the West.

Pius XII, living under Axis rule, made sharper criticisms of the Nazis than Vatican bishops made of Saddam Hussein. As a Catholic, I want to be proud of my bishops. I wish they would make it easier for me.

Posted by Paul Jaminet at April 25, 2003 8:41 AM
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