Not since the use of chemical weapons in Syria one year ago has Pope Francis been so vociferous in condemning violence and conflict; only this time he has been speaking explicitly in defense of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.
On Sunday, he made his strongest condemnation of the brutal persecution taking place in the Nineveh Plain, saying news of the atrocities carried out by Islamist terrorists leaves everyone “in disbelief and dismay.” Such barbarism, he said, “greatly offends” God and humanity.
“You cannot bring hatred in the name of God. You cannot make war in the name of God!” he said before pausing for a moment of silent prayer.
In other initiatives, the Pope yesterday sent a personal envoy to Iraq, called on all parishes to pray for the persecuted, and issued a flurry of tweets. He published nine messages and appeals on Twitter over just three days, most of them pleas for prayer, warnings that “violence is not conquered by violence,” and for the international community to act.
But the Pope has yet to explicitly name the Islamic State for condemnation. Instead, that has been left — belatedly some argue — to the Vatican and specifically Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The Vatican department, known more for platitudes on interreligious harmony than strident statements, issued a forceful declaration Aug. 12 noting that the world is incredulous about the Islamists’ goal of restoring the Caliphate. It pointed out that despite opposition by Muslim groups, the jihadists “Islamic State” (IS) have not been prevented from committing, and continuing to commit, “unspeakable criminal acts.”
After listing them, it explicitly called on Muslims to condemn the atrocities. Failure to do so, it said, would discredit the interreligious dialogue it has tried so hard to foster.
Other Vatican officials have also been speaking up. Although none has explicitly endorsed U.S. air strikes, they have given assent to military action. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the papal nuncio in Baghdad, has said “something had to be done,” otherwise the Islamists “could not be stopped.” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s representative to the U.N. in Geneva, told Vatican Radio at the weekend that “military action in this moment is probably necessary.”
This is in stark contrast to the Vatican’s previous and usual opposition to military intervention, most recently in Syria. Ironically, Pope John Paul II’s main motive for opposing the 2003 Iraq War was because he could foresee the current persecution against Iraqi Christians witnessed today.
Now that this has come to pass, Church leaders are stressing Christians’ right to self-defense. Some have argued for the creation of a Christian militia in Iraq, but that would almost certainly escalate the conflict. Baghdad-based Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Babylon has said he would prefer a “professional, well equipped” international army to protect Christians and other minorities from the violence. He has even asserted that current U.S. air strikes are inadequate.
These are all strident words. Not since the war in Afghanistan has the Vatican given such a conspicuous nod to military action. But officials argue that use of arms is in line with Church teaching, as long as exercising the right to self-defense respects “the traditional limits of necessity and proportionality.”
There are situations that should be evaluated “specifically,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told the news site Affaritaliani. “The principle of self-defense is a moral principle, fundamental and very old, in cases of acts of aggression.
“But the question, as we have always said, is that violence is not enough to solve the problems of violence,” he explained. “Peacemaking needs to go beyond the use of arms, to be able to act also on mutual understanding, on dialogue, on minds and hearts. But this must always be viewed according to the situation taking place.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.

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