The self-inflicted wounds of Vatican diplomacy
When he made these comments, Cardinal Martino was supposed to be introducing the Pope's message for the World Day of Peace. Instead, reporters got him talking about Saddam Hussein.
What he said was objectively loopy. It's one thing to oppose the death penalty; it's quite another to say that you're treating someone "like a beast" when you give him a physical examination. If the individual in question is a notorious war criminal, this excess of compassion is even more striking. And by any normal standard, Saddam Hussein is living under more humane conditions now, in US custody, than when he was when he spent his time in a burrow-- on his own volition!
The net effect? In all likelihood, he convinced most observers that Vatican officials are hopelessly out of touch with reality. Based on that perception, people probably won't pay attention to the Pope's message. And of course the message itself was lost in the welter of coverage for Cardinal Martino's outburst, so thousands of people won't even hear about the Pope's message.
(And maybe that's just as well. Frankly, I am at a loss to explain the Pope's enthusiasm for expanding the authority of the UN. But that's another story. )
Cardinal Martino has been the Vatican's most outspoken critic of US policy in this conflict with Iraq. But at this point, his intemperate criticism of the US hurts the Vatican much more than it hurts the White House.
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