The Catholic Church
and Iraq

Catholic Theologian Argues for War

U.S. theologian Michael Novak went to the Vatican in early February to make the case for war.


As the Vatican continued to oppose military action in Iraq, U.S. theologian Michael Novak made a case for war to a skeptical Vatican audience in early February, arguing that military action was justified under traditional self-defense principles and not under some new concept of preventive war.

Brought to Rome by the U.S. State Department, Novak met privately Feb. 8 with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's equivalent of foreign minister, and officials of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and later detailed his Vatican presentation at a Feb. 10 Rome symposium organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican.

Novak argued that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had disrupted international order by refusing to disarm and that Iraqi weapons risked falling into the hands of a new breed of international terrorists eager to strike countries around the world with no advance warning.

"A limited and carefully conducted war to bring about a regime change in Iraq is, as a last resort, morally obligatory," Novak said at the Rome symposium.

"For public authorities to fail to conduct such a war would be to put their trust imprudently in the sanity and good will of Saddam Hussein," he said.

Novak said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks "threw the behavior of Saddam Hussein into an entirely new light and enhanced the danger Saddam Hussein poses to the civilized world a hundredfold."

On one side, Iraq maintains weapons of mass destruction, and on the other, international terrorists are seeking to procure them.

"All that is lacking between these two incendiary elements is a spark of contact," Novak said.

"Given Saddam's proven record in the use of such weapons, and given his recognized contempt for international law, only an imprudent or even foolhardy statesman could trust that these two forces will stay apart forever. At any time they could combine, in secret, to murder tens of thousands of innocent and unsuspecting citizens," he said.

The responsibility of determining whether Iraq poses a sufficient threat to justify war falls to civil leaders like U.S. President George W. Bush, Novak said, citing the "Catechism of the Catholic Church."

Not only do civil authorities have a primary duty to protect the lives of their people, but they are also the closest to the facts and are privy to highly restricted intelligence information, he said.

Novak praised the Vatican's insistence that the Iraqi crisis be handled by the international community as a whole. He noted that Bush was seeking a second U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq.

"The absolutely best thing is complete agreement. But the moral principle stands whether there is complete international agreement or not," he said.

—Catholic News Service

Copyright ©2003 Catholic News Service, U.S. Catholic Conference. The CNS news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method, in whole or in part without the prior written authority of Catholic News Service.

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