VATICAN, Jan 30, 03 (CWNews.com) -- The Vatican's Secretary of State has expressed clear opposition to a military strike on Iraq, in the strongest language yet used by a Vatican official.

"We are against the war," Cardinal Angelo Sodano told a group of Italian journalists. He added that whatever arguments might be made about a "pre-emptive strike" on Iraq, "it is certainly not a defensive war."

In his remarks, Cardinal Sodano advanced a view which would represent a major new development in Church teaching, questioning whether warfare could ever be justified under current circumstances.

Cardinal Sodano told the reporters that Vatican diplomats are working closely with officials from Great Britain and the United States, "who hold the main keys to the situation."

The cardinal raised several practical arguments against military action. He wondered aloud whether American officials had learned from the country's experiences in Vietnam. "Aren't they risking dozens of years of conflict with the Islamic world?" he asked. He pointed out that although the world's Muslims are not united on matters of foreign policy, "they do have a sense of collegiality."

But Cardinal Sodano also advanced a radical new argument, going beyond the scope of the Church's "just war" teaching. He said: "It is not only a matter of knowing if this war would be just or unjust, moral or immoral. We want to raise the question: Is warfare worthwhile?"

The Vatican has organized a series of discussions on modern warfare recently, obviously seeking to stimulate debate on the questions outlined by Cardinal Sodano. In a response to those initiatives, the US ambassador to the Holy See, Jim Nicholson, has convened a February 3 seminar to discuss the justice of military action against Iraq. Michael Novak, a noted American scholar, will defend that proposition.

VATICAN, Jan 30, 03 (CWNews.com) -- The US ambassador to the Holy See concedes that Pope John Paul II opposes a military strike on Iraq, but insists that the American position is consistent with Church teaching on justice and self-defense.

Ambassador James Nicholson told the Italian publication L'Espresso that the US argument in favor of a "pre-emptive" military strike is "the point of disagreement between the United States and the Holy See." Despite "repeated discussions with different Vatican leaders," he admits, he has not been able to persuade the Vatican that a pre-emptive strike is justified.

Nicholson argues that recent developments in world affairs should lead to changes in the just-war theory. "A theory that was created long ago now needs to be updated," he argued.  Nicholson observes that some states, "among them Iraq," now have weapons of mass destruction, which they can use on a moment's notice. In those circumstances, he says, a pre-emptive strike against a hostile state can be an act of self-defense.

The US ambassador remarks that despite his skepticism regarding war on Iraq, Pope John Paul II is not a pacifist. Nicholson reports that after the September 11 terror attack on the US in 2001, he briefed the Pope on US plans for military action in Afghanistan. Nicholson recalls, "He told me that after much prayer and reflection he thought we were dealing with an attack not only against the United States but against mankind." As a result, the ambassador says, "the Pope gave us his support."


VATICAN, Jan 30, 03 (CWNews.com) -- In a two-hour international teleconference sponsored by the Congregation for the Clergy on January 30, Church leaders and theologians discussed the dangers of war and the prospects for peace.

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, sponsored the conference, which used television and internet connections to bring together speakers from around the world. This was the 15th such conference organized by the Congregation since September 2001, when the Vatican dicastery inaugurated the program. Each month, the Congregation has brought together 15 experts on a different topic, to speak in conferences that are designed to advance the intellectual formation of priests and seminarians.

The January 30 conference centered on the just-war tradition, and its application to current events. Thus the teleconference fell into line with a series of events organized by Vatican officials in recent weeks, designed to advance the debate on military action against Iraq. The next conference in the series will focus on problems of bioethics.

The day's conference featured remarks by Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem and Cardinal Edward Egan of New York. The Palestinian patriarch argued that the conflicts in the Middle East cannot be viewed separately, and insisted on a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He said that both Arabs and Jews are "tired of the conflicts which their leaders seem to impose upon them-- either because they cannot see the paths to peace, or because they are caught up in regional and international calculations of interest."

Speaking from Australia, Archbishop George Pell of Melbourne said that military action "can be legitimate when the damage done by an aggressor is serious, certain, and lasting, and when all other means of stopping the aggression have proven inadequate." Without making any direct judgment on American claims that a "pre-emptive" war is justified in the case of Iraq, Archbishop Pell said that the key moral question is whether there is a "just cause" for military action.