NEWS STORY: Vatican Continues Peace Offensive, Anglican Bishops Blast Possible War

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c. 2003 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) The Vatican stepped up its peace offensive Wednesday (Jan. 15) as one ranking official asserted it is not too late to open dialogue with Baghdad and another urged the United Nations to lift its embargo.

In England, meanwhile, the House of Bishops of the Church of England said military action against Iraq “could not be morally justified” without “compelling new evidence” of clear links between Iraq and al-Qaida or of Iraq posing an “immediate threat to international security.”

At the Vatican, Archbishops Jean-Louis Tauran, the French prelate who acts as the Vatican’s foreign minister, and Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, echoed an appeal for peace Pope John Paul II made in his New Year’s address to diplomats Monday. The pope warned that war would be a “defeat for humanity.”

“There is still time to remind everyone of the need to give a privileged place to sincere dialogue and of the importance of the U.N. mechanisms aimed at resolving conflicts and differences between nations,” Tauran said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro.

In reply to a question, Tauran did not rule out the possibility the Vatican might send mediators to Baghdad although, he said, “for the moment there are no plans for this.”

Martino, until recently the Vatican’s permanent observer at the United Nations, told the Religion News Service of the Conference of Italian Bishops that if U.N. arms inspectors find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the United Nations should lift its embargo against Iraq.

“The most logical thing would be to withdraw the sanctions because after 12 years of embargo the Iraqi population is exhausted and has suffered and is still suffering every kind of privation,” he said. “And this, humanly and humanitarianly, cannot be tolerated for a long time.”

Martino said he believed the threat of war was lessening. He said present moves against Iraq appeared to involve “only deterrence and not a firm proposal to go to war. The tone seem to be already more moderate and have reached the point of saying that the war might begin next autumn.”

War, he cautioned, “does not eliminate terrorism if it does not go to its causes, which are of political, economic and cultural origin. In young people who see no prospects for their own future you find the candidates for terrorism.”

In England, the Anglican bishops repeated their warning that a preventive war against Iraq would involve an unacceptable lowering of the threshold for war.

They said the United Nations weapons inspectors must be permitted to carry on their work and that the case has not yet been made for a war.

“It is crucial that this process be allowed to run its course,” they said. “To launch military action while there remains the potential to secure a peaceful resolution would be ill-judged and premature.

“We continue to hold that a conclusive case has yet to be made in favor of military action against Iraq. We do not believe the evidence presented to date suggests a clear link exists between Iraq and al-Qaida or that Iraq poses an immediate threat to international security.

“Without compelling new evidence to the contrary, we contend that military action could not be morally justified,” they said.

Anti-war sentiment has been growing in England, America’s staunchest ally in the proposed war against Saddam Hussein, in recent weeks. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are scheduled to meet Jan. 31, four days after the United Nations Security Council is scheduled to hear reports from U.N. weapons inspectors.

Like their Vatican counterparts, the Anglican bishops called for more focus and attention to ensuring the basic humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people are met and that “a clear path” was constructed for the swift and effective return of Iraq and its people to their rightful place in the community of nations.

“In seeking to resolve this crisis, we call on the international community to provide the basis for a lasting and just peace in the region by taking all necessary steps to revitalize the Middle East peace process, based on the twin principles of a secure Israel and a viable Palestinian state,” they added.

Polk reported from the Vatican, Nowell from London


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