Papal Benedictions

“They treat the rupture of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”

Jeremiah 6:14

Act One: In January 2004 Dick Cheney concluded his tour of Europe with a visit to the Vatican where he was received by John Paul II.

Ten months earlier the United States had invaded Iraq in a display of “Shock and Awe” and was now settling into its occupation. The U.S. was still waging war in Afghanistan, and it had been two years since the first detainees had arrived at Guantánamo.

The New York Times wrote, “the pope did not mention Iraq, … but sitting with Mr. Cheney in the papal library, John Paul talked in English about the importance of peace and respect for human life.”

Dick Cheney presented the pope a crystal dove. The pope accepted it.

James Nicholson, the American ambassador to the Holy See, said that when Cheney met with Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano they did not revisit the invasion of Iraq. “It was a forward-looking conversation,” he said.

Before leaving Italy, Cheney stopped at Aviano Air Base, the largest American military airport in southern Europe. Flanked by an Air Force F-16C fighter and an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, he told members of the military and their families that ”America led a mission to make the world safer.”

A few weeks later the U.S. Marines would attack Fallujah for the first time, and shortly thereafter the world would see the photographs of Abu Ghraib. By November, just days after being returned to office, the administration would order the siege of Fallujah. The City of Mosques would be cordoned off and its 300,000 inhabitants forced to flee into the desert. A convoy of Red Cross relief trucks would languish on the outskirts, denied entry by U.S. troops while water supplies were cut and hospitals attacked. By Christmas Fallujah would be rubble.

Act Two: This week Josef Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, traveled to Washington where he was received by George Bush on Wednesday morning at the White House.

Three more years have passed, and the country of Iraq is in chaos, its civilization shattered. More than a million Iraqis are dead while 4,500,000 have been forced to flee their homes, most saying they will never be able to return.

The United States recently announced the completion of its largest embassy in the world, a highly fortified compound in the heart of Baghdad, and five military bases the size of small cities are now a permanent part of the Iraqi landscape.

United States officials and Vatican spokespersons predicted the pope’s visit would be forward-looking, avoiding contentious mention of Iraq. George Weigel, a Catholic theologian and author of Faith, Reason and the War Against Jihadism said, “The Vatican is a very adult place. The arguments of five years ago are over.”

Addressing the guests on the White House lawn, the pope said, “From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator,” and he praised the United States as a country that “has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs.”

George Bush and the pope then met privately before issuing a joint statement in which they “reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents.”

During their personal meeting George Bush presented the pope a crystal cross. The pope accepted it.

Act Three: On Wednesday evening Barack Obama assured Americans that when it comes to Iran he “will take no options off the table,” a position he shares with the Bush administration and the other presidential candidates.

ANDREW WIMMER is a member of the Center for Theology and Social Analysis in St. Louis, MO. He welcomes your comments and conversation. He can be reached at




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