The Unopened Letter

Thursday, October 6, 2011 2:11 AM

A snapshot

from the disastrous G. W. Bush Administration.


When Bush put John Paul II's letter on the side table without opening it [Vatican Insider]


On March 5, 2003, Pope John Paul II sent the Italian Cardinal, Pio Laghi, to intervene with President George W. Bush and ask him not to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, but the US leader rejected the appeal claiming he was “convinced it was God’s will”.  

A source close to the situation at that time, but who does not wish to be named because of the position he holds, has given me an account of what happened then based on what the cardinal told him in private. 

He recalled how the Polish pope had already referred to this planned military intervention as an “adventure” and had warned that war would have serious consequences for both nations and the world.  He said the pope chose Laghi for this delicate mission, because he was a friend of the Bush family and might have stood a better chance of being listened to.

The day before the scheduled meeting with the President, the cardinal was asked to meet with officials from the US State Department, as the President wanted to know the agenda of the meeting in advance. Cardinal Laghi was “interrogated” by the National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, the source said; they spoke “with great clarity and great frankness”.

Condoleeza Rice was also present at the meeting next day when the cardinal met the President.  So too were two other members of the National Security Council, as well as General Peter Pace, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  Jim Nicholson, the US Ambassador to the Holy See, and Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio.

When the Cardinal arrived, the source said, he handed Pope John Paul II’s letter to the President, “who immediately put it on a side table without opening or reading it.”

The President then launched into an argument for war, the source added. He told the cardinal that he, the president, “was convinced it was God’s will”, and sought to convince the papal envoy that it was the right thing to do.

“After a few minutes of what the Cardinal termed ‘a sermon’ ”, the source said Laghi interrupted President Bush and said, “Mr. President, I came here in order to speak to you and to give you a message from the Holy Father and I would like you to listen to me.” 

Cardinal Laghi told Bush that three things would happen if the United States went to war, the source recalled.  First, it would cause many deaths and injuries on both sides.  Secondly, it would result in civil war.  And, thirdly, the United States might know how to get into a war, but it would have great difficulty getting out of one. 

He told the president that with peace nothing is lost, but with war great turmoil would be created, especially in the Arab world. He also told President Bush that “the most important issue” in the Middle East is the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. That has to be dealt with if there is to be peace, the source stated.

As the forty-minute meeting came to a conclusion the President told Laghi, “We are not in agreement on Iraq but we are in agreement on other positions important to the Catholic Church and the Holy Father.” 

According to the source, the Cardinal responded, “Yes, the values of promoting life and the family are very important, as they are based on the principles of natural law, human rights and the Gospel.  But, Mr. President, I came here to ask you not to go to war, which is another value based on these same principles.”

Cardinal Laghi realized from this exchange that the President had already made up his mind, the source said. This was confirmed shortly afterwards by General Pace, as he accompanied the Cardinal to his car. He shook hands with the Cardinal and told him, “Your Eminence, don’t be afraid. We’ll do it quickly and we will do it in the best way.”

“Laghi knew his mission had failed, but he also realized that the Bush administration was very naïve about the consequences of war “, the source said

He recalled how the press corps was waiting outside the White House after the meeting to interview the cardinal, but administration officials did not allow him to speak to them at the White House. Arrangements to talk to the media had to be hastily made elsewhere.

The next day, March 4, when it was reported that the administration had blocked the Cardinal from speaking to the media at the White house, a person from the State Department called Laghi at the Nunciature in Washington and asked him to clarify with the media that he was not prohibited from giving an interview at the White House. Cardinal Laghi replied, “It is for you to make the clarification as you made the decision.”