Coming soon in a lengthy exclusive interview with the National Catholic Register, the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X gives an overview of current talks between the Society and the Holy See, his views on Pope Francis, and what he sees as the “catastrophic” state of the Church today. Look out for the full interview soon on www.ncregister.com
In an exclusive interview with LIGNET, a former head of Britain’s armed forces has voiced his strong opposition to a military strike on Syria, saying a war on the country would be a “mistake” as its consequences would be “particularly uncertain” and could make the situation “much, much worse.”
Field Marshall Charles Guthrie, Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank, also believes hostilities favoured by the Obama administration in reaction to an alleged chemical weapons attack last month would not fulfil the criteria of a just war.
Charles Guthrie served as head of Britain’s armed forces from 1997-2001 under Prime Minister Tony Blair. From 2000 until 2009 he was head of the SAS, Britain’s special forces. He commanded the British Army from 1994 to 1997 and advised the British government during the Bosnian and Kosovo wars.
Speaking to LIGNET Sept. 6th, Guthrie said: “I do not think we should carry out a military strike or anything like that – that’s mainly where I’m coming from.”
He said it would be “a mistake to go to war” because there are “a lot of reasons not to do it.”
“What effect will it have on the region? What effect will it actually have on the people on the ground?,” he asked. “And what we have to remember is that, quite honestly, every war has unforeseen consequences.”
He said this conflict is “particularly uncertain” because “we’re not quite sure of what the opposition is really like,” and he was wary of any military action in the Middle East in general. “There are other countries who are very fragile at the moment – I’m thinking of Lebanon and Jordan – so it could spread quite easily.”
Asked what he thought might be the most likely consequences would be, he said: “It’s difficult to say, but are we seriously going to say that if the bombs don’t work, we’re going to bomb and bomb and bomb, day after day, week after week? Is that a good policy?”
Over the course of his career, Lord Guthrie served in Malaysia, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, East and West Africa and Northern Ireland. Last year, Queen Elizabeth II raised him to the rank of Field Marshal.
An expert in the ethics of war, in 2007 Guthrie co-authored with Sir Michael Quinlan, a former top official in Britain’s Ministry of Defense, a best-selling book called “Just War – The Just War Tradition: Ethics in Modern Warfare.”
He is particularly concerned that this operation would fail to measure up to the criteria for a just war. Without UN Security Council backing (never likely in this case), he said it would lack legitimate authority. He was also not fully convinced such a war would be a sufficient and proportionate response.
“I think probably there’s a just cause, but it’s awfully difficult to tell,” Guthrie said. “You can never tell whether a war will go smoothly and easily. And when you’ve embarked on a war, there are unforeseen consequences and you’re never quite sure when it’s going to end.” He is also convinced that bombing a country “makes people war resolute.”
Moreover, he’s wary that bombs can hit the wrong targets. “They can hit civilians, there can be collateral damage, and what seems a frightfully good idea can be used against you,” he said.
Some just war theorists argue that punishment is a legitimate criteria, but Guthrie doesn’t share this view. “You’ve got to make the situation better and you could be making it much, much worse,” he said. The Field Marshal is also sceptical that a bombing campaign will be effective as a deterrence against further chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It could work, he said, “but at what price?”
He stressed it’s important to say that chemical weapons are a “horrible thing” and that people are “very emotional about it.”
“People recall even now, a long, long time after the First World War, that chemical warfare has been used recently by Iraq on the Kurds and on the Iranians,” he said. “But though it’s a particularly nasty and revolting way to kill people, there are a lot of other ways to kill people, too.”
A Catholic, Lord Guthrie is supportive of calls from Pope Francis and others for talks and a political settlement. “That’s absolutely right, but the difficult is getting people to want to talk,” he said. “The best way is for people to get round a table and hammer it out. It’s all very well for the Holy See to say that, but you’ve got to have two sides who earnestly want to have a solution, and whether you’ve got that I don’t know,” he said.
“Eventually they will come to the table I suspect, but they’re not ready to come yet and the Russians aren’t being particularly helpful.” Russia and Iran have been accused of arming President Bashar al-Assad. Other nations such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have been bankrolling Islamist rebel forces fighting the Assad regime, making this conflict “very, very complicated” and “completely different to Iraq,” he said.
“We need to say a lot of prayers,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie’s opposition to a military strike is similar to other very senior military figures such as Lord Dannatt, another former head of the British Army, who recently said he did not currently support military action in Syria “in any shape or form”.
This article appeared in LIGNET, 9 September 2013
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has chosen an accomplished Italian Vatican diplomat as the new Vatican secretary of state, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is stepping down on account of his age.
Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who currently serves as the Pope’s representative to Venezuela, will become what is considered to be the closest equivalent of a Vatican “prime minister,” presiding over the running of the Curia, the Holy See’s diplomatic service and relations with states.
At just 58 years of age, he will be the youngest secretary of state since Eugenio Pacelli, who was appointed in 1930 at the age of 53 and later became Pope Pius XII. Archbishop Parolin will take over from Cardinal Bertone on Oct. 15.
In a statement released by the Vatican Aug. 31, Archbishop Parolin expressed his “deep and affectionate gratitude to the Holy Father” for the “unmerited trust” he had shown in him.
He assured the Pope of his “willingness and complete availability to work with him and under his guidance for the greater glory of God, the good of the Holy Church and the progress and peace of humanity, that humanity might find reasons to live and to hope.”
Archbishop Parolin said he felt “very strongly the grace of this call” and “the full weight of the responsibility placed upon me.”
“This call entrusts to me a difficult and challenging mission, before which my powers are weak and my abilities poor,” he said. “For this reason, I entrust myself to the merciful love of the Lord, from whom nothing and no one can ever separate me, and to the prayers of all.”
Archbishop Parolin, whose episcopal motto is “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35), also thanked those who have helped him and will assist him in his new position.
He said he was sorry to leave Venezuela, where he has been stationed since 2009, and paid tribute to his family, friends, Benedict XVI, Cardinal Bertone and others to whom he owes “a great debt.”
“It is with trepidation that I place myself in this new service to the Gospel, to the Church and to Pope Francis,” he said, but added he would do so “with trust and serenity — disposed — as the Holy Father has asked us from the beginning — to walk, to build and to profess.” He ended his statement invoking Our Lady of Monte Berico, Guadalupe and Coromoto, to give him the courage to “walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s cross.”
A Credentialed Diplomat
Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Parolin after a lengthy period of reflection and widespread consultation with cardinals whom he trusts, such as Honduran Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, John Paul II’s long-serving secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Cardinal Bertone.
The Vatican diplomat is well regarded in Rome. He earned respect within the Vatican principally as undersecretary for relations with states between 2002 and 2009. Although the post is regarded as the Holy See’s “deputy foreign minister,” it has considerable influence.
During that time, he became known for cementing ties between the Holy See and Vietnam that laid the foundations for advances in religious freedom in the communist state. He improved relations with China, helping to re-establish direct contact with Beijing in 2005, and tried to keep relations on track in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics. He visited China twice, and his time as undersecretary was said to mark a real turning point in Church relations with Beijing.
Further, he has earned a reputation for being well connected yet humble, with an unassuming, modest personality. He was responsible for advancing negotiations with Israel to fulfill the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, on tax and property rights for the Church, even though the agreement is still yet to be signed. He was personally at the forefront of Vatican efforts to approve and implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
As undersecretary, he was also involved in handling sensitive relations with Iran. Diplomatic sources say he was largely responsible, while working closely with the British Embassy to the Holy See, for the liberation of 15 British navy personnel captured by Iranian forces in the Arabian Gulf in April 2007. He is also credited with playing a key role in Vatican efforts to revive dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The Holy See diplomat took further interest in combatting human trafficking, promoting and protecting religious freedom and safeguarding the environment.
During his time as undersecretary, the Holy See also worked to resolve tensions in a variety of trouble spots, from East Timor to the conflict between Ecuador and Peru over rights to the Amazonian territories along their disputed borders. The Vatican also pushed international efforts to ban cluster bombs and helped resolve a serious institutional crisis that had broken out in Zaire.
His subsequent time as apostolic nuncio to Venezuela, during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, was never easy. In 2010, Chavez ordered a review of Venezuela’s ties with the Vatican amid tensions between his government and the country’s bishops. It is said to be partly because of Archbishop Parolin’s skilfull diplomacy that relations did not deteriorate further before Chavez’s death on March 5 this year.
“He is a man of patient dialogue, an exemplary priest, formed also in the great diplomatic tradition of the Holy See,” said Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant’Egidio Community, adding that Archbishop Parolin “appears to have a personality best suited” to work with the Pope in his upcoming tasks. The lay community, which worked closely with Msgr. Parolin in the 2000s, said his appointment is “a sign of the pastoral style Pope Francis is impressing on the governance of the Church.”
His Earlier Years
Pietro Parolin was born in 1955 in Schiavon, Vicenza, in northern Italy, to a devout Catholic family. He experienced tragedy at the age of 10, when his father died in a car crash, leaving his widowed mother to bring up Pietro and his two siblings. He entered the seminary at the age of 14 and studied during the social turbulence of the late 1960s.
He was ordained on April 27, 1980, after which he took up graduate studies in canon law. Though he appeared to be headed for service on a diocesan tribunal dealing with family pastoral care, his career took a turn when he was summoned to work for the Holy See instead.
In 1986, at the age of 36, he graduated from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Holy See’s institute for training diplomats, and then he entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service. He served in the nunciatures of Nigeria and Mexico; the former gave him valuable experience with Christian-Muslim relations, while the latter post gave him a chance to work on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Mexico.
In 1992, he was called back to Rome to work as an official in the Secretariat of State. While there, he was country director for Spain, Andorra, Italy and San Marino before being appointed undersecretary to relations with states in 2002. He speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish.
The Task Ahead
Archbishop Parolin’s personality is likely to fit harmoniously with that of the Holy Father, and he is said to share the same concerns as Pope Francis with regards to “careerism” in the Roman Curia.
His diplomatic skills and relative youth, meanwhile, have stirred up expectations that he will be a proactive and dynamic secretary of state. This is particularly important given criticisms in recent years of poor communications and a perceived lack of direction coming from the Secretariat of State.
The big question is whether he will make the Holy See’s most important dicastery a force for evangelization. As pope, Benedict XVI would frequently remind the Holy See’s diplomatic corps that they were priests first, diplomats second. For Archbishop Parolin, serving the Holy See has always been a way to exercise his priestly spirituality while at the same time taking a realist view of global diplomacy. His administrative competence and linguistic abilities are also expected to improve the Church’s image and, in turn, have a positive impact on evangelization.
Cardinal Bertone had a difficult seven years as secretary of state, especially during the Vatileaks scandal, which prompted him to offer Benedict XVI his resignation and which the former pontiff refused to accept. He was neither a diplomat nor a linguist, and many felt he was out of his depth. But when he addressed the Italian media Sept. 1, he said he took a “positive view” of his time as secretary of state.
“Of course, there were problems, especially in the last two years,” he said, and he blamed “a mix of crows and vipers.” But he added, “This shouldn’t overshadow what I believe to be a positive assessment.”
“I’ve always given everything,” he said. “Certainly I have had my faults, and if I think back now, I would have acted differently. But this does not mean I haven’t tried to serve the Church.”
Cardinal Bertone, who turns 79 in December, has some scheduled pastoral duties to complete before he steps down, including a pilgrimage to Fatima on Oct. 12, shortly before the transition takes place.
On Oct. 15, Pope Francis will receive in audience superiors and officials of the Secretariat of State “in order publicly to thank Cardinal Bertone for his faithful and generous service to the Holy See and to introduce them to the new secretary of state,” the Vatican said.
Pope Francis confirmed Aug. 31 the positions of Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu as sostituto for general affairs at the Vatican (the Vatican’s chief of staff), Archbishop Dominique Mamberti as secretary for relations with states (the Vatican’s foreign minister), Archbishop Georg Gänswein, as prefect of the pontifical household, Msgr. Peter Wells as assessor for general affairs, and Msgr. Antoine Camilleri as undersecretary for relations with states.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent
This article appeared in the National Catholic Register, 3 September 2013
While respected British portrait artist Alexander Talbot Rice was working on a painting of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, he came close to death in Afghanistan, suffered personal loss, and yet throughout the entire experience, he grew in faith.
“It was a very meaningful experience for me,” Talbot Rice tells ZENIT. “It is a picture that was supposed to be painted.”
The artist, who has painted in person Queen Elizabeth II and the late former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher, presented the portrait at a June 28 dinner of distinguished guests in Rome hosted by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a Catholic non-governmental organisation.
The painting, taken mostly from photographs, took two years to complete and is expected to be bought by a donor to be given to the Vatican Museums.
The project began in 2011 when Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the former governor of Vatican City State, commissioned the painting, having seen Talbot Rice’s painting of the Duke of Edinburgh. “He took me to one side and said wouldn’t it be lovely if you did a painting of the Holy Father,” Talbot Rice recalls.
He says he found the experience of painting Benedict XVI’s portrait “profoundly spiritual”, adding that although he didn’t meet the Pontiff, in painting such a man of faith one finds “part of them in yourself.”
The portrait depicts Benedict XVI with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. “There’s that incredible intelligence shining through his eyes,” says the artist. “That’s what struck me about him: the strength of mind, and his love of high culture.” It also shows him with “a little more vigour” than images of him of late, where he has appeared increasingly frail.
But it was also everything else that was going on in his life that brought a deeper meaning to the portrait. Talbot Rice, who comes from a family with close connections to the Welsh Guards, spent time in Afghanistan where he helped a foundation, set up by British parliamentarian Rory Stewart, to create an arts centre in Kabul. After that, he wanted to see more of the country – but it was an adventure that nearly cost him his life.
“I bought three horses and with a guide and translator, basically rode over northern Afghanistan,” he recalls. “Half-way through the journey, we were at 14,000 feet. It was bitterly cold, it was getting dark, we’d been riding for 10 hours, and we had to stop to feed the horses and get some shelter.”
“We came to a village and went to main house there. About 25 men were in there, all Talib [members of the Taliban] and they were in the middle of their prayers. A mullah was leading their prayers, looking a bit like Bin Laden, and I thought the polite thing to do would be to join them, so I went to the front, knelt down and, as a Christian, prayed with them.”
“Afterwards, I called my translator over and asked if he would please explain to the mullah that we’d like to accept his hospitality. And the mullah turned to my friend and said: ‘If this man is a Christian and prays as a Christian among so many Muslims, he must be a man of great faith and God is protecting him.'”
All this, he says, was happening concurrently with the painting. “That was an extraordinary experience, literally being very close to being killed, and so a lot went into this painting.” He had also just gone through a painful divorce.
As Talbot Rice finished the painting, he remarkably cut away most of it, leaving just the head and shoulders. “Originally it was going to be a much bigger picture, three quarter length,” he says. “It was just when I’d finished it that I decided to cut all of it out and just go for the head and shoulders.”
The original had been of Benedict in full vestments giving a blessing. “I took all of that out. I wanted it to be much more intimate,” he says. “I woke up one morning, I’d just finished it, and I knew what I had to do, so I got a pencil, drew around a frame I had in the house, got a pair of scissors and chopped it all off.”
He says “part of the process in painting is a dialogue with the picture” and that sometimes “you never know where you’re going to go before the answer becomes apparent.”
Talbot Rice was raised a Greek Orthodox Christian, but he is fond of the Catholic Church, feels drawn to it, and sees a “strong cultural connection” with Rome. He now hopes to start a portrait of Pope Francis whose humility he finds an “inspiration”, and would very much like to paint him in person.
While he was working on the painting of Benedict, he was also painting a portrait of Baroness Thatcher who sat regularly for him. It was the last painting of her before she died in April this year. Previously, he has painted the Queen, who sat for him in the Coronation Coach, which she has only ridden in three times during her reign.
“I loved her, I thought she was great,” Talbot Rice says. “There are two queens – a public queen and private one – and she was just lovely. But you never forgot who you were with her, while at the same time it was important not to be obsequious.” He was particularly pleased that she felt at ease during the sittings. “That’s a great help as it gets the best out of a subject,” he says. “I wanted to paint her smiling and that’s what happened.”
Talbot Rice is a specialist in fine arts; he studied classic portraiture in Florence and at the exclusive Repin Academy of Arts St. Petersburg. But he laments that in the contemporary art world, he is almost considered “anti-establishment” because he is a classical, naturalistic painter. The irony is that conceptualism and modern, abstract art is now the establishment.
“It’s important to encourage artists that all of these forms are valid and that to appreciate all forms of art is to be the opposite of closed minded, which is the opposite of what they [conceptualists] pretend to be,” Talbot Rice says.
Some have drawn parallels between modern and classical art and the tensions between the faith and modernity, between the Church and secularism, where secularists have become the establishment and are intolerant of those who value the Christian roots of civilization.
Talbot Rice argues that for art to be abstract, it has to be an “abstraction from something” and that something provides the forms, language, and vocabulary in which to express oneself through art with understanding. “How you choose to express yourself is up to you but you have to have that vocabulary in music, or in literature or in any art,” he says. “And if you think fine art is any different from any other art form then actually you’re asking several fundamental questions which are rather presumptive, like what is art?”
He adds there’s a “lack of humility, an intolerance that I don’t like about conceptualism,” and argues that “the guy in the street” should be able to look at the painting and “get it.”
“You should find it tasty, and if it’s tasty, you know it’s tasty. It’s like good food – no one can tell you that you should or shouldn’t like that. We’ve all got something in our DNA that should enable us to say ‘this wine tastes lovely’. That doesn’t mean we should all like the same wine, but there’s definitely a difference between something that’s corked and something that isn’t.”
Today’s conceptualist “is about sensationalism, celebrity, and about them,” he says. “It’s very ego driven.”
This article appeared in ZENIT, July 12, 2013.