Saturday, September 20, 2008

Peter & Geopolitics

The ability of the Holy Father to play a potent role on the world stage these past several decades has truly been remarkable; helping lead to the fall of communism in the Soviet empire and the stirrings of freedom in the former captive states in Eastern Europe.

Recently it has been with the extraordinary success of Peter’s involvement in bringing Islam to the table of discussion with reason and religion as the topic; a huge achievement in the future peace of the world with the continued success of these talks.

This article from Chiesa discusses this.

An excerpt.

“The Catholic Church is a 2,000-year-old reality. But the current political role of the papacy on the world stage is a recent achievement, from the past few decades. For three centuries, after the peace of Westphalia, the papacy stood on the outer edge of political power. Its political neutrality coincided with its irrelevance. His denunciation of the first world war as a "useless massacre" condemned Benedict XV to isolation. The Holy See was not even invited to the peace conferences that put an end to the two global conflicts of the 20th century.

“Its resurgence began midway through the past century, with the pontificate of Pius XII. And it continued with his successors, John XXIII and Paul VI. The latter preached from the podium of the United Nations, in the name of a Church "expert in humanity." Stripped of temporal power, the papacy took on moral authority. But half of the world remained unalterably hostile to it. Stalin mocked a Church devoid of armed divisions. Crushing Soviet power forced the Church into silence, both behind the Iron Curtain and beyond it. Not a word about communist domination emerged from Vatican Council II, although it discussed everything. The famous Vatican Ă–stpolitik of those years adhered to the strict doctrine of realism, to the minimum necessary to ensure that the persecuted Church would have the chance not so much to live, as simply not to die.

“Then came a pope from Poland, and everything changed. The spiritual revolution that he inspired was the additional factor that accelerated the collapse of the Soviet system. During his pontificate, the Church deployed the entire gamut of its resources. Geopolitical realism alternated with Wilsonian idealism. The papacy put the people in front of the state. It replaced the inviolability of borders with "the duty and the right of interference, to disarm those who wish to kill." It called for the intervention of international troops, in defense of the peoples of Bosnia and Kosovo. In both cases, these were Muslim populations, relics of the Ottoman Empire that three centuries before had besieged Vienna; now the pope was aligning himself with them.

“John Paul II was anything but a pacifist. He called for military intervention in East Timor, in Haiti, in the Great Lakes region of Africa: in this last case, his appeal went unheard, and the result was the unfettered genocide of entire populations. The expansion of freedom and of democracy was one of his guiding principles.

“But at other times and in other places, John Paul II opted for the rejection of armed action, for the sake of realism. He opposed the 1990-1991 war against Iraq, in spite of the fact that it was approved by the UN and intended to restore the legitimate sovereignty of an invaded country, Kuwait. Among the "interests" that motivated the pope's opposition to the war, the first was the defense of the Christian minority in Iraq. Another was the rejection of the new world order with unlimited American hegemony. Still another was the proposal of establishing a relationship, not of opposition, but of "dialogue" between the Church and Muslim countries, similar to the relationship with the Soviet bloc during the years of Ă–stpolitik, even at the cost of keeping silent over the large-scale violations of human rights perpetrated in those countries.

“After September 11, 2001, Pope Karol Wojtyla gave de facto approval to war operations in Afghanistan. But he resolutely opposed the second war against Iraq. He contrasted this with all his strength, but without ever condemning it as immoral. The logic of the pope's opposition to the war was, again, realist. So much so that in 2003, especially after the terrorist massacre in Nassiriya on November 13, the official line of the Holy See became – and remains – one of open support for the continued presence of Western troops in the country, a presence viewed as a "peacekeeping mission," partly for the protection of Christian minorities.

“It is no surprise, therefore, that after the death of Pope Wojtyla in 2005, the last three presidents of the United States knelt before his body, and almost all of the world leaders came to his funeral. In a world that has become more anarchical after the dissolution of the blocs, the head of the Catholic Church has been recognized as having unprecedented authority, moral rather than political.

“With a giant of John Paul II's stature gone from the scene, the natural question was whether and how his successor would be able to keep the papacy at the center of the world stage. The question was all the more natural in that the new pope, the German Joseph Ratzinger, was a man of a different temper, a refined theologian, hard to imagine as an epic trailblazer. And in effect, from the very beginning, Benedict XVI refused to imitate his predecessor. But this did not mark a rupture with him. He proceeded along the same path, but with his own unique stride. And that includes the theater of international politics.

“If John Paul II was the pope of dazzling intuitions, Benedict XVI is the pope of methodical reasoning and action. The former was above all image, the latter is mainly "logos." John Paul II made an impact with these words from his first homily as pope: "Be not afraid, open the doors to Christ." The words already contained a glimpse of the peaceful revolution that he would inspire in Eastern Europe, and not only there. But the first action of Benedict XVI that made a worldwide impact was the long and substantial lecture that he gave at the University of Regensburg on September 12, 2006. He literally shook the world, for both the right reasons on the wrong ones. That lecture explained the new pope's view of the Church and of the West and his plans for them, including relations with Islam.

“According to the canons of geopolitical realism, Benedict XVI should never have delivered that lecture in its entirety. He should have had it reviewed and purged beforehand by the diplomatic experts, something that he intentionally declined to do. And a number of people in the Vatican curia criticized him for this.

“And yet, two years later, the facts tell a different story. Despite the alarm of the Cassandras, a dialogue emerged between the Catholic Church and Islam that had never existed before Regensburg, and had even seemed impossible. This dialogue is not only intellectual – represented, for example, by the initiatives following the "letter of the 138 Muslim scholars" – but also political. The political dimension advanced considerably after the audience at the Vatican on November 6, 2007 – the first of its kind in history – between the pope and the king of Saudi Arabia…

“Everyone was surprised by the extraordinarily friendly welcome that Benedict XVI gave to American President George W. Bush, on the occasion of his last visit to the Vatican. It certainly marked a break with respect to the traditional anti-Americanism of the Catholic hierarchy: an attitude that sees the United States as synonymous with unbridled capitalism, consumerism, social Darwinism. But the real motivation for Pope Ratzinger's fondness for the United States is that it is a country born and founded "on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights," foremost among which is liberty. To United States ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, who came to present her credentials to him, Benedict XVI said that he admires "the American people's historical appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse," a role that elsewhere – read, Europe – "is contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life." With the consequences that derive from this on the issues closest to the Church's heart, like "legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death," marriage, the family.”