VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The capture of Saddam Hussein may help bring peace to Iraq, but it does not change the fact that "the war was useless, and served no purpose," a top Vatican official said.
Cardinal Renato R. Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the Vatican wants Saddam to receive a fair trial for alleged crimes during his long dictatorship. As in other cases, the Vatican is opposed to the death penalty for the fallen Iraqi leader, he said.
Cardinal Martino offered the first substantial Vatican reaction to the capture and detention of Saddam by U.S. forces. He spoke Dec. 16 at a press conference to present Pope John Paul II's World Day of Peace message.
The cardinal said he hopes Saddam's capture "contributes to peace and the reconstruction of Iraq. But it would be illusory to think that it will repair the damage caused by that great defeat for humanity which war always represents."
"I hope his capture does not have other, serious consequences. But this is not the total solution to the problems in the Middle East," he said.
Cardinal Martino voiced displeasure at the broadcast of TV images showing a bedraggled Saddam undergoing a medical examination shortly after his detention.
"What caused me pain was seeing this ruined man, treated like a cow whose teeth are being examined. They could have spared us those pictures," he said.
"I felt compassion for him," the cardinal said. He described Saddam as "a man of tragedy," with heavy responsibilities for the crimes he committed.
Asked if he thought it would be appropriate for a tribunal to consider imposing the death penalty, the cardinal said, "You know well that the pope has spoken repeatedly against capital punishment. I have spoken against capital punishment. The European Union has abandoned capital punishment; the international tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia do not even consider imposing the death penalty."
He said the Vatican hopes "the trial will take place in an appropriate forum," but he said that at least at this point the Vatican could not specify what would constitute an appropriate forum.
Other Vatican and church officials predicted that even after Saddam's capture Iraq still has a rough road ahead.
In Iraq, bishops and other church leaders said Saddam's detention would help the country "turn the page" in building social peace and order. But they, too, cautioned that violence would probably continue for some time in the country.
Pope John Paul made no official comment on Saddam's capture, which was announced as the pope prayed the Angelus Dec. 14 with pilgrims at the Vatican.
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reported the news the next day on its front page under the headline: "A trail of blood follows the capture of Saddam Hussein." The newspaper noted that a series of deadly attacks had continued in Iraq after Saddam's arrest.
The newspaper said the dictator's detention, however, widened the prospects for an era of peace, justice and normal life in Iraq.
An informed Vatican official, who asked not to be identified, said the Vatican hoped Saddam's arrest would "help contribute to improving the security situation." But there were doubts that would happen, the official said, because Saddam appeared to have been isolated from insurgents.
"It certainly didn't seem like he was the head of a resistance movement or the organizer of all the attacks that are being carried out. He seemed like a fugitive on the run," the official said.
According to U.S. authorities, Saddam was found in a one-man hole next to a two-room hut where he had been living.
The Vatican official said the Holy See hoped the dictator's capture would help "accelerate the involvement of Iraqis in the governing of their country" and help bring more involvement by the United Nations in postwar Iraq.
Chaldean Bishop Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, said Saddam's capture was a surprise for everyone. Although many Iraqis presumed he was behind the recent attacks against U.S. and allied targets, Bishop Warduni said that was a simplification.
"Unfortunately, the terrorists come from many quarters, not just one," the bishop told Vatican Radio. He said he feared terrorists were entering the country clandestinely, taking advantage of poor security on the borders.
Bishop Warduni said that in the wake of Saddam's arrest an Iraqi government should be formed.
"There are plenty of intelligent people in Iraq, including those in politics, and they can certainly guide the country without a dictatorship," he said.
Chaldean Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiyah in northern Iraq said that with the capture of Saddam "the head of the serpent has been crushed."
"The arrest of Saddam Hussein is a joy for all Iraqis, and also for us bishops. Finally the fear has been removed ... along with the suspicion that Saddam could reappear," Bishop Al-Qas told the Catholic agency Asia News.
He said Saddam should now be tried in an Iraqi court.
"Even if he is a wicked man, his dignity should be respected. But he needs to confess his crimes, the millions of people he killed or had killed. Even Christian forgiveness supposes confession and expiation," he said.
Syrian-rite Father Nizar Semaan, who works in northern Iraq, said news of Saddam's capture was greeted with great joy among average Iraqis. But most people are aware that it won't mean the automatic end to violence and terrorism in the country, he said.
"With the arrest of Saddam Hussein, a chapter of Iraqi history is ending, characterized by crimes against humanity, injustice, poverty, the embargo and emigration of young people in search of a better future," Father Semaan told the Vatican missionary news agency Fides.
"Now we can turn the page," he said.
Father Semaan said Saddam should be tried publicly for alleged crimes, because Iraqis need to know what happened during 30 years of dictatorship.
But he said the trial should not be conducted by an all-Iraqi tribunal, because Iraqis were in some ways too close to Saddam.
"Most of us were victims of his dictatorship, but we almost all
applauded him when he was in power. We are too much involved with him
to be able to judge him in a calm and objective manner by ourselves.
So it is better to have an international tribunal that includes Iraqi
judges," he said.
Catholic News Service
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