Inquiry on the Diplomatic Offensive of John Paul II's Vatican
By Henri Tincq
Paris le Monde 25 December 2002
In his message to the world on December 25, the Pope, John Paul II repeated his warnings to the United States and Great Britain and pronounced himself against any "preventative war." Even if it plays no direct role in international affairs, the Vatican wishes to make its voice heard and to weigh in on the most important issues.
The Christian celebration of Christmas was marred by the situation in Bethlehem and the perspective of a war in Iraq, The "Urbus et Orbus" message the Pope pronounced Wednesday December 25 in Rome was marked by this double preoccupation.
John Paul II addressed himself during Midnight Mass in a prayer read in Arab "to those responsible for nations and for international organizations", asking that they doing everything within their power to promote peace in the Middle East.
In his message on December 25th, he repeated this theme and his warnings to the United States and Great Britain: No "preventative action" in Iraq. For weeks, the Pope has expressed his opposition to any "preventative war", which would not be a "just war" when he has spoken of the American and British preparations for a military operation in Iraq.
It's been a long time since the Vatican has played a direct role in international politics; however, and now more than ever, the Catholic hierarchy has sought only to make its voice heard. The Church owes this to John Paul II, whose reign- a quarter of a century on October 16, 2003- has been the longest since Leo XIII (1878-1903). Through his trips, the role he played in the fall of Communism and the opening of dialogues with other religions, this Pope has inaugurated a new form of presence for the Church.
It's a matter, not of recovering now inaccessible political power, but rather of contributing to the solution of armed conflicts and creating a " new moral and constitutional world order" which he wished for again in his message, published 17 December, for the Church's annual day for World Peace. celebrated every January 1.
The reestablishment of Peace in the Middle east, the struggle against terrorism, the prohibition of all bioethical derivatives (against reproductive and therapeutic cloning), the recognition in the founding documents of the "Christian heritage" of the European Union are the axes around which the Holy See mobilizes its diverse diplomatic initiatives
Since the signing on December 1 of an accord with Qatar, the Catholic Church maintains diplomatic relations with 176 countries, twice as many as in 1978, the year of John Paul II's election. The tradition of the Holy See is to neither solicit nor break off relations with any country. Before his trip to Cuba (January 1998) the Pope resisted pressure from the United States to break off relations with the regime of Fidel Castro.
Only three important countries still sulk: China, with which relations were broken off by Beijing in 1957; Saudi Arabia; and Vietnam, a country where a Bilateral Commission nevertheless meets once a year to regulate any issues of contention related to the exercise of the Catholic religion.
In a recent interview in Corriera Della Sera, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, both Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, declared that the Holy See, represented at the United Nations by a permanent Observer, could become a full member. At the same time, the Vatican celebrated on December 10 in Paris, its 50 years of UNESCO presence.
On October 31, the Pope received Valery Giscard d'Estaing, president of the European Convention, to ask him for inclusion of a clear reference to Christianity in the Constitution of the Union. A similar speech was given when the Pope accepted new ambassadors from Germany, Slovenia, Greece, and France. The 14th of November, John Paul II repeated the same theme for the Italian Parliament, which was specially convened to hear him at the Montecitorio Palace.
Does this diplomatic drive of the Church irritate a part of the international community? "One may assume so," responds Jean Geuguinou, new ambassador to France at UNESCO and former ambassador to the Holy See, "but more and more countries seek at any price to maintain relations with the Vatican and receive the Pope." The greatest success of Pontifical diplomacy was undoubtably harvested during the 70s during the Helsinki Process and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Cardinal Casaroli notably obtained recognitiion from the Communist Bloc of the principle of religious freedom.
Since then, everywhere it is active, Vatican diplomacy maintains a double objective: First, to make international law succeed: in the Middle East, for example, the Church has consistently demanded respect for the UN resolutions. The second objective is to be present in all organizations concerned with peace in the world and human rights. From this objective emanate the Holy See's campaigns for international debt reduction, the initiative of the Commission of Justice and Peace, inter-religious encounters, and mediation initiatives as an instrument of parallel diplomacy such as the Community of San'Egidio.
The diplomats of the vatican have also shown themselves active as the allies of certain Islamic countries during UN conferences on population in Cairo (1994) and the following year in Peking on the rights of women. One remembers the opposition against the efforts of the Vatican to defeat the resolutions recognizing a universal right of abortion.
As if to confirm the will to be present on the international scene, the Pope has recently ordered some changes in appointments, a rare event at the Vatican. He has kept the couple created in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall: Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State even though he has reached the age limit of 75, and Monseigneur Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary of Relations with the States. However, he has just sent one of his best diplomats, Mgr. Celestino Migliore, who has experience wioth the Council of Europe, to the United Nations.
In Brussels, the Holy See has doubled its representation and maitains a nuncio just for the European Union. The Irishman, Mgr. Diarmuid Martin, has just been promoted to nuncio at the International organizations in Geneva, as has Mgr. Franco Follo, come to Paris to represent the vatican at UNESCO. As the French expert, Joel-Benoit d'Onorio, remembers, Church diplomats, formed in the mould of The Ecclesiastic Pontifical Academy, want to be "with the others", but are not "like the others".