- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

The U.S. ambassador to the Vatican will hold a forum in Rome to argue to Catholic Church officials that a pre-emptive strike in Iraq would be a "just war," a moral argument that the pope and U.S. bishops have rejected so far.
The presentations to Vatican officials are likely to include American Catholic philosophers, such as Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, who have argued that the threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction justify new military strategies.
Jim Nicholson, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, confirmed the plan to Catholic News Service this week and organizers in Washington said it will likely be held from Feb. 8 to Feb. 10.
"It's going to be around that weekend," a staff member close to the plans said yesterday. "The agenda may already be pinned down."
The forum will "try to enlighten the dialogue on the moral analysis of when war might be morally justified," Mr. Nicholson told the wire service Monday.
Mr. Nicholson, along with other proponents of a new "pre-emptive strike" view of a just war, said terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction have changed the moral equation.
"The clarification of thought on everyone's part is a good thing," said Catholic philosopher George Weigel, who writes on the topic in January's issue of First Things.
But he said no one would expect the Vatican to endorse a particular military action.
The symposium in Rome will come after Pope John Paul II, in his first mention of the Iraq crisis, on Monday, told diplomats to the Vatican that military force must be "the very last option" and under "very strict" conditions.
"War is not always inevitable," he said in his annual address. "It is always a defeat for humanity."
After the speech, Mr. Nicholson said President Bush agreed that war was a last resort and that it could be averted if Iraq abides by U.N. resolutions and gets rid of its weapons of mass destruction.
Just-war doctrine says a war must be defensive, a last resort, likely to succeed and unlikely to produce more harm than remedy.
By those criteria, the U.S. Catholic bishops in November said a pre-emptive attack on Iraq is not morally justified.
In December, Archbishop Renato Martino of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said: "A preventive war is a war of aggression, there's no doubt. It is not included in the definition of a just war."
The moral argument of the pre-emptive strike, or "preventive war," doctrine, its advocates say, is to curtail unimaginable destruction by nipping it in the bud.
"If we knew on September 10 what was going to happen on September 11, would we not have been justified in taking some action against that?" said Mr. Nicholson, a Catholic and former head of the Republican National Committee.
He said that last fall Mr. Bush corresponded with the pope and that U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state.
"It has generated, I think, a pretty healthy discussion within the walls of the Vatican, among the Curia, and certainly in the Catholic press," Mr. Nicholson said in the news service interview.
The United States has had diplomatic relations with the Vatican since the Reagan administration, and issues such as the Soviet Union, Bosnia, the Middle East and now Iraq have been topics on the diplomatic table.
The pope opposed the 1991 Persian Gulf war and has lamented the embargo on food to Iraq's populace.
Though investigative reports have argued that President Reagan and Pope John Paul II worked together to aid the Solidarity movement in Poland, thus sparking the fall of Soviet communism, Reagan administration officials, including Vatican Ambassador Vernon Walters, have denied the report.

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