The Vatican’s claim to infallibility is restricted to rather narrow claims of faith and doctrine. Not everything the pope says, contrary to some popular belief, gives his view the mantle of infallibility.
Thus, popes do not claim to be infallible when they speak on economics, the environment, or politics. However, they have often argued that there are other options to consider when we face hard choices, and political and business leaders tend to look only for pragmatic and short-term solutions.
A case in point is the Chilcot Report released in the United Kingdom July 6. The official inquiry delivered a devastating indictment of Britain’s decision to invade Iraq. It said the war was based on flawed intelligence and was launched before all diplomatic options were exhausted. The 2.6 million-word report said the U.K. failed to appreciate the complexity of governing Iraq, and did not devote enough forces to the task of securing the country in the wake of the invasion.
Vatican commentator Andrea Tornielli wrote in his Vatican Insider blog that the Chilcot Report has brought to light the absurdity of the conflict to bring down Saddam Hussein which has transformed Iraq into a cesspool of terrorists. Pope John Paul II, already old and ill at the time, tried everything to stop it. But in vain.
Tornielli wrote that in January 2003, then-Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano issued a warning about the imminent war against Hussein. “We say to our American friends: is it in your interest to anger a billion Muslims and risk having the hostility of the Muslim world for decades?”
Meanwhile the pope met with world leaders and sent envoys to both Iraq and America in an effort to prevent the 2003 conflict. U.S. President George Bush, Jr. labelled the conflict a “preventative war.”
The Chilcot Report accuses then-prime minister Tony Blair of wanting to wage war at all costs, ignoring the many alternatives. It was these very alternatives the pontifical diplomats had insisted on so passionately
Tornielli reminds us that war “is won by propaganda in the first place.” The propaganda emphasized weapons of mass destruction and terrible chemical agents which were never found. “Warnings about the potential consequences of a war — not least of which was plunging the country into chaos and leaving it prey to Islamic terrorism — were ignored. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed by not-so-smart bombs, a conflict whose consequences the whole of the Middle East and the world pay to this day.”
He writes that Pope John Paul II tried to speak truth to power. All he could do was to suggest a day of prayer and fasting for peace for March 5. Tornielli says the voice of the aging pontiff “should have been better heeded, instead of waging a war on the basis of lies, without UN backing and without thinking of the aftermath. The voice of Iraq’s Christians should have been better heeded. They were mocked and branded as ‘pacifists’ on Saddam’s payroll even by some Catholic media outlets that were eager to put on the helmet.”
The Chilcot Report supports the pope’s warnings of the terrible aftermath the war would bring about. The whole region was destabilized and fundamentalism and terrorism were strengthened. Thousands of civilian lives were lost and terrorists reign over the area with impunity, with no peace in sight.
The Chilcot Report alerts us to beware of propaganda that continues to guide international policies even today.