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Pope approves military action in Iraq, but not unilateral US bombing

August 18, 2014

Pope Francis said that military intervention to stop the slaughter of Christians in Iraq is warranted, but cautioned against unilateral action by the US, in a press conference as he returned from a 5-day trip to South Korea.

During an hour-long exchange with reporters board the papal flight, the Pontiff answered questions about a wide range of topics, including Korea, Iraq, the conflict in Gaza, his health and his schedule, and his future travel plans.

In response to a question about bombing in Iraq, the Pope said that “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.” He made it clear that this judgment applied to the situation in northern Iraq, where Christians and other minorities face persecution by Islamic militants.

However the Pope recommended international action. “One nation cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor,” he said. In explaining this caution he observed: “How many times under this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor the powers have taken control of peoples, and have made a true war of conquest.”

Pope Francis disclosed that he had spoken with his aides about a personal trip to Iraq. “At the moment it is not the best thing to do,” he said, but he added that he was open to the possibility if it would be helpful.

Speaking about his busy schedule, the Pope conceded that he had a tendency to overtax his own energies. He acknowledged that several minor ailments that he suffered during the summer could be attributed to exhaustion, and said: “Now I have to be a little more prudent.”

The Holy Father said that although he has not taken a vacation outside Rome, he does take time to relax—sleeping more, reading, listening to music, and chatting with friends. He said that it is “one of my neuroses” that he becomes attached to the place where he is living, and does not want a change.

Questioned about his relationship with Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said that his predecessor’s resignation “opened a door that is institutional, not exceptional.” He said that papal resignations make sense “because our life gets longer and at a certain age there isn’t the capacity to govern well because the body gets tired, and maybe one’s health is good but there isn’t the capacity to carry forward all the problems of a government like that of the Church.” He said that if he feels unable to carry out his duties, he would certainly follow Pope Benedict’s example.

On other topics, the Pope said:

  • He “would like to go to Philadelphia” to participate in the World Meeting of Families next year, but plans are not yet firm. He said that he might add other stops to a trip to North America, possibly including New York (to speak at the UN), Washington (where he has been invited to address the US Congress), and Mexico, for a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
  • He still plans an encyclical on the environment, and a first draft has been prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace under the direction of Cardinal Peter Turkson. But that draft will be pared down, to eliminate questionable scientific statements. He observed that “in an encyclical like this, which has to be magisterial, one can only go forward on the things that are sure, the things that are secure.”
  • Progress toward the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero has been delayed because he is seeking clarification from theologians on whether the Salvadoran prelate’s death qualifies as martyrdom. While expressing his own great admiration for Archbishop Romero, he traced a distinction between dying for the faith and dying “for acting in the way Jesus asks us to.”
  • Despite the new violence in Gaza, he insists that the prayer meeting involving the presidents of Israel and Palestine was “absolutely not a failure.” He insisted that Presidents Peres and Abbas are “men of peace,” and realize fully “that the path of negotiation, dialogue and peace is the only to solve the problem.”
  • He would happily travel to China—“For sure! Tomorrow!”—and the Church is anxious to pursue contacts with the Beijing regime. “The church only asks for liberty for its task, for its work,” he said.

As he wrapped up his conversation with reporters, Pope Francis disclosed that upon his return to Rome he planned to do the same thing that he had done before leaving for his trip to Korea: visit the basilica of St. Mary Major, and place flowers before the icon of the Virgin Mary, Salus Populi Romani. The Pontiff said that he was bringing a bouquet that had been presented to him by Korean children.


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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Defender - Aug. 18, 2014 9:46 PM ET USA

    The Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul has his diocese run by radical Muslims now and said that “liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here,” adding that “Islam does not say that all men are equal,” and if Westerners “do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed into your home.” The pope doesn't seem to realize this, nor that if the U.S. hadn't acted, even more Christians would be dead or enslaved. The UN? Really?

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Aug. 18, 2014 6:25 PM ET USA

    Despite the headlines, it doesn't seem that the pope ever said 'US' anywhere in his conversation. (Understand that I have as little faith in Obama as he probably does, but accuracy in reporting is a virtue.) That said, Christians in Iraq need MILITARY protection pronto, from whatever quarter is willing to supply it. I am glad to see him reiterate the right to self defense, something often forgotten by overeager Western irenicists.