VATICAN CITY—A week before the US presidential election, the Vatican on Monday steered clear of taking sides on campaign questions such as whether the war in Iraq was just and if Catholics can vote for candidates who support laws allowing abortion.
“The Holy See never gets involved in electoral or political questions directly,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, quickly intervening at a news conference when a top Vatican cardinal was asked if the faithful can vote for a candidate who supports legalized abortion.
Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat challenging US President George W. Bush for the White House, is a Catholic who has said that while personally opposed to abortion, he upholds the right of women to have one.
Pope John Paul II has vigorously championed the Vatican’s long-standing opposition to abortion, which was denounced as a “horrendous crime” in a Vatican compendium on social doctrine that was made public on Monday at a news conference.
“Far from being a right, it is a sad phenomenon,” the document said.
Some US churchmen, like St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, have said Kerry should be denied Communion.
Navarro-Valls said bishops in each nation could, if they desired, weigh in on campaign issues to “illuminate the consciences of the faithful with ethical elements so they can make a judgment” in elections.
Officials at the news conference described the 524-page compilation of doctrine as a kind of handbook which could help business, political and cultural leaders.
Appearing to break no new ground, the volume quoted extensively from, and offered reflections on, writings and speeches by Pope John Paul II and previous Pontiffs on matters including preventive war, terrorism, the death penalty, immigration, workers’ rights, poverty, globalization, free markets and human rights.
Under the heading “Legitimate Defense,” the compendium stated that “engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions.”
Arguing that the war in Iraq was necessary, the Bush administration had said in the run-up to the conflict that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction.
No such weapons have turned up.
In apparent reference to the United Nations, the document said that “international legitimacy for the use of armed forces, on the basis of rigorous assessment and with well-founded motivations, can only be given by the decision of a competent body that identifies specific situations as threats to peace and authorizes an intrusion into the sphere of autonomy usually reserved for a state.”
Former Vatican envoy to the United Nations Cardinal Renato Martino was asked by a reporter if “in hindsight,” the US-led war against Iraq would be “illegal” in the eyes of the Church.
The cardinal replied: “Did you read the address of the Pope to President Bush? Read it again.”
Martino was referring to the Pontiff’s words to Bush when the American leader paid a call at the Vatican last June. In that address, John Paul expressed “grave concern” about events in Iraq and his desire for achievement of “normalization as quickly as possible.”
Martino, now in charge of the Vatican council dealing with matters of justice and peace, was the cardinal who was asked about political candidates. He denied that the timing of the release of the compendium, six years in the making, was linked to the US election campaign. He noted that the Vatican this week was hosting a long-planned meeting on social issues.
While encouraging the condemnation of terrorism “in the most absolute terms,” the compendium said the right to defend oneself against terrorists “cannot be exercised in the absence of moral and legal norms.”
Abuse of prisoners at the hands of US servicemen and women at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq caused worldwide outrage, and the treatment of prisoners held by the United States at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has drawn international objections.
“Human rights are inherent to every human being,” Martino told Associated Press Television News before the press conference. “They are not a concession.”
The compendium also reiterated Church teaching that there is virtually no justification for the death penalty and hailed as a “sign of hope” growing public opposition to capital punishment.
In apparent reference to the Pope’s outspoken opposition to gay marriage, the document said “no power can abolish the natural right to marriage or modify its traits and purpose.”
Martino said the compendium was being published, in several languages, “with a great hope that it can be welcomed by everyone.”
By Frances D’emilio