Vatican Official Calls for More Intervention in Iraq

Archbishop Silvani Tomasi

Archbishop Silvani Tomasi

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, is signaling approval for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq aimed at checking the  encroachment of the brutal Islamic State in Iraq and to protect targeted ethnic minorities.

In spite of its fierce opposition to the Iraq war in 2003, Archbishop Tomasi told Vatican Radio that the Holy Father and other members of the Christian community, including the World Council of Churches, are taking a strong stand in defense of the rights of Iraqi Christians to live in peace in their own homes.

“However, we are faced with a certain indifference at the practical level with the international community. It is difficult to convince–because of false modesty, I would say–the Western powers to take a strong stance in defense of the Christians,” he said.

“Now there is action beginning on the part of the international community. We are talking about a special session here in Geneva with the Human Rights Council. There has been a special meeting of the Security Council in New York and some governments are beginning to express their suggestions for practical action in defense of these populations in northern Iraq and the United States has decided some military action.”

Although he believes that dialogue is best in the long run, “the response of concrete humanitarian assistance that is provided for the Christians in northern Iraq as well as some political and even effective military protection” is the correct course for now.

This approval for U.S. airstrikes, which is so much different from the Vatican’s response to military action during the previous two Gulf Wars, was echoed by yet another high-ranking Vatican official. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the pope’s ambassador to Baghdad.

Lingua told Vatican radio that the American strikes are “something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State forces] could not be stopped.”

Veteran Vatican correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. cites three important points to explain why the Vatican is appearing to give at least a “yellow light” to increased military action in Iraq.

First, even though the Vatican will only back military incursions that have the blessing of the international community (i.e., the United Nations), Tomasi and Lingua’s comments appear to be reflecting a shift in “recognition that there are times when the situation is sufficiently urgent that anyone who steps in, with or without a formal U.N. resolution, can claim the moral high ground,” Allen explains in this article appearing in the Boston Globe.

“Second, the emerging Vatican line clearly establishes a limit to pacifism as an option within Catholic social teaching. In effect, the take-away is that there are times when the use of force is the only option left to serve the greater good.”

Third, the facts on the ground are much different now than they were in 2003. The Vatican opposed the two Gulf Wars as well as an expansion of the conflict in Syria because they feared that the fall of a police state in the Middle East would lead to the rise of a radical Islamic theocracy which would impact negatively on religious minorities.

“That’s no longer a theoretical anxiety. It’s the lived reality of the new caliphate proclaimed by the Islamic State, which means that the Vatican and other Christian leaders are no longer so worried about the aftermath of a conflict. They’re much more preoccupied by the here and now, and thus more inclined to back anyone who seems prepared to do something about it.”

Allen concludes: “What’s going on at the moment, however, would seem to be a de facto recognition that there are times – however rare, and however lamentable – when ‘give peace a chance’ may work as a fervorino, but as foreign policy it doesn’t quite do the trick.”

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