Impossible though it may be to quote a papal condemnation of the war in Iraq, lots of emails quoted statements against the war by Vatican officials other than the Pontiff, notably by Cardinal Soldano, the secretary of state, Cardinal Martino, the Vatican’s permanent observer at the United Nations, and the former nuncio to the United States, Cardinal Laghi. “What does it matter,” one correspondent asked, “that the Pope himself didn’t condemn the war if his agents did?”
It matters a lot.
No one in the Church has any standing or authority that even approaches that of the Pope, as Soldano, Martino, and Laghi themselves understand. Read their anti-war statements carefully and you’ll find them making it clear that they’re speaking for themselves or for “the Vatican,” by which they mean the secretariat of state—that is, the Vatican diplomatic corps—but never directly on behalf of John Paul II.
When Church officials speak as diplomats, moreover, the faithful owe them no more allegiance than they would to any other diplomats. In perfectly good conscience, in other words, a Catholic may conclude just what I have concluded, namely that Soldano, Martino, and Laghi have spent the last couple of years talking nonsense, all three suggesting that a war can prove just only if condoned by the United Nations, without, however, helping the faithful to grasp, a) how the question of justice is affected by having an action ratified by a body, two-thirds of whose membership is made up of dictators, oligarchs, and nickel-and-dime tyrants, or, b) why the same Vatican diplomats opposed the first Gulf War, even though that action was indeed condoned by the United Nations.
With a clear conscience and in perfect justice, it is possible to say of Soldano, Martino, and Laghi what would be quite wrong to say of the Pope: That they deserve no more respect or consideration than Dominique de Villepain or any other practitioner of mere Eurobabble.