Pope rejects pursuit of military solution in Syria as Vatican convenes diplomats

Pope rejects pursuit of military solution in Syria as Vatican convenes diplomats


            Archbishop Dominique Mamberti

I'm at the Vatican this week, where Syria is the number one topic of discussion and concern.

We just learned that in a letter sent yesterday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis urged international leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” in Syria.

It was the latest in a series of Vatican statements signaling opposition to President Obama’s planned attack on Syrian government forces and urging instead a renewed international-backed effort at diplomacy and negotiation.

The pope wrote to Putin because the Russian leader is chairing a G20 summit that Obama is attending, but also perhaps because Russia has been a supporter of the Syrian regime headed by Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and therefore may have some influence with the Syrian leader.

Francis condemned the “senseless massacre now unfolding” in Syria, and said the international community cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of the country’s civilian population. But he said the path to follow was dialogue, because “violence never begets peace.”

The pope’s letter was made public today after a meeting of ambassadors summoned by the Vatican for an urgent discussion of the Syrian situation. Addressing the diplomats, the Vatican’s foreign affairs minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, expressed outrage at the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria that left more than 1,400 people dead and called for clarification in identifying those responsible.

He cited Pope Francis’ recent condemnation of the attack: “There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable!” The Obama administration has blamed the Syrian regime for the attack.

Mamberti said the short-term priority in Syria is to stop the violence, and he warned of “unforeseeable consequences” if the fighting continues. He then listed several essential principles that need to be part of a just solution in Syria:

-- Renewal of dialogue between all parties in Syria.

-- Preservation of Syria’s unity and territorial integrity.

-- Protection of all minorities, including Christians, in the future Syria, as well as respect for religious freedom.

Mamberti also expressed the Vatican’s growing concern about the presence of “extremist groups” in Syria, often from other countries, and said opposition forces should keep their distance from such extremists and openly reject terrorism. This was a point also raised by several of the 71 ambassadors present for the discussion that followed, according to a Vatican spokesman.

When it comes to the issue of a U.S. attack on Syrian government forces, there isn't much debate going on at the Vatican: everyone here seems to think it would be a very bad idea.

The message from the pope and others is that a U.S. bombing of Syria would not bring peace any closer, would increase suffering in the country, would worsen the flow of refugees, would risk sparking a wider war and could further endanger the Christian community and other religious minorities in Syria.

Pope Francis has called for a universal day of prayer and fasting for peace on Saturday, an appeal that’s struck a chord among other religious leaders, including Muslims in the Middle East.

But it’s clear the pope also wants to make sure the Vatican’s diplomatic voice is heard, and thus his letter to Putin and the convocation of ambassadors.

All this echoes 2003, when Pope John Paul II convened diplomats and strongly warned against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There are important differences, of course – the United States is not planning an invasion of Syria – but many Vatican officials still point to Iraq as proof that military intervention often opens new chapters of suffering instead of resolving conflicts.

When the United States and other Western powers took military action in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, there was significant support at the Vatican for international “humanitarian intervention” aimed at disarming the aggressor in the wake of ethnic cleansing and what Pope John Paul II called “crimes against humanity.”

But Vatican sources said this week that what Obama has in mind in Syria does not fit the definition of “humanitarian intervention.” Nor is a plan for peace being put forward. And that’s why, in this moment, prayer and fasting are seen not just as a symbolic response, but as a way to promote a new vision and a new international approach to Syria. (For a perceptive treatment of this issue, see Drew Christiansen’s piece in the Washington Post yesterday.)

Along with Middle East and U.S. bishops, several Vatican and church officials have weighed in on the Syrian question in recent days.

Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said armed intervention in Syria could easily extend the fighting to other countries, a situation that “has all the ingredients to explode in a war of global dimensions.”

Religious orders have enthusiastically supported the pope’s initiatives, and the superior general of the Jesuits, Father Alfonso Nicolas, took the unusual step of categorically rejecting the plan to attack Syria. “I have to admit, I don't understand what right the United States or France has to act against a country in a manner that will undoubtedly increase the suffering of a population that has already suffered enough,” he said.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has raised doubts about the United States’ attribution of the chemical attack to the Syrian government, saying that many find it “difficult to understand” why the Assad regime would cross the so-called “red line” of chemical weapons use when he appeared to be winning against the rebels.

8 comments (Add your own)

1. Carr, Robert wrote:
The "rebels" are Western backed. So what is the "end game"???

Thu, September 5, 2013 @ 12:14 PM

2. SOPHOS wrote:
Congrats to the Pope for speaking his convictions and boldly discouraging the USA and France for planning to attack Syria. The Pope is impressing the world with his simplicity and his heart for the poor. And now he has shown courage of conviction in speaking against irrational and one-sided action of the so called Western powers. The Superior General of the Jesuits deserves credit for speaking against USA and France for their intention of attacking Syria. It is right when he questions the "right" of these two bullying nations. If everyone speaks like this, we can see more peace in the world.

Thu, September 5, 2013 @ 1:03 PM

3. bill bannon wrote:
How does the Pope know the value or consequences of the attack if he does not know the geographical and object details of the attack? His statement that violence begets violence contradicts even God in the Old Testament who appointed Jehu to kill the house of Ahab and thru Eliseus ordered a preemptive attack on Aram ( 2 Kgs.13 end).
I think mass media is tempting recent Popes into a predictable pacifism that simply begs to be ignored the more predictable it gets. Assad has no motivation for dialogue because he may then face an international court.

Thu, September 5, 2013 @ 2:52 PM

4. Elijah wrote:
Bombing Syria, no matter how "controlled," is going to result in more loss of life, and the strengthening of the rebel forces which include terrorist groups who are responsible for killing innocent Christians and other minorities. There is another report today in the news of a whole Christian village totally wiped out by these groups.

Fri, September 6, 2013 @ 4:33 AM

5. Jay Barani wrote:
Kudos to the Pope but one of the issues here is the use of chemical weapons and the need to show there are real and immediate consequences to their use. I'm not going to prevent to know the answer and just hope peace and justice can be achieved as soon as possible.

Fri, September 6, 2013 @ 6:50 AM

6. S Rajendran wrote:
Assad may not be willing to go for a dialogue Pope has done the right thing at the right time. Assad has to be caged only through the efforts of so called Super powers

Sat, September 7, 2013 @ 10:10 AM

7. Donald Nelson wrote:
The root of the problem is we have had since 2009 an occupant of the White House who has
done irreparable damage to the office of the Presidency. In Syria we are faced with two
different factions, both of whom are bad to rotten.We should have never stuck our neck out over the issue of chemical weapons,bad as they are.

Sat, September 7, 2013 @ 3:26 PM

8. michael wrote:
Thank you Holy Father for speaking up against the war on Syria.There are more reasons to believe that the islamist fudementalists have used chemical
weapons,considering that the government forces are gaining control in the conflict .The islamist rebels are the ones who kill innocent minorities ,and commit atrocities like eating human parts of their enemies after killing them. The irony
is that the US is siding with the terrorists

Sat, September 7, 2013 @ 7:01 PM

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