Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Pope Comes to America: A Prediction in a Very Catholic Post

I'm pretty sure that, when the Pope comes to America, one of the alphabet-soup networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, PBS) will proclaim that the Holy Father said "Out of Iraq."

Although they'll probably be less blatant than that.

I heard that sort of thing, years ago, when another Mid East war was looming. I looked up what the Pope actually said. It was far from a ringing endorsement of American foreign policy: but not a condemnation, either. Rather, the Pope strongly urged the American president to consider seriously points which I recognized as the Just War Doctrine.

The Pope Has a Job to Do

That's the Pope's job, in part: to inform those who make decisions of critical moral points which must be considered.

He didn't tell the American president, 'do this,' or 'don't do this.' He told the American president what points must be considered.

A fairly typical papal remark about Iraq and the War on Terror was in the "Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI" (Christmas 2006):

"I appeal to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq, that there will be an end to the brutal violence that has brought so much bloodshed to the country, and that every one of its inhabitants will be safe to lead a normal life. I pray to God that in Sri Lanka the parties in conflict will heed the desire of the people for a future of brotherhood and solidarity; that in Darfur and throughout Africa there will be an end to fratricidal conflicts, that the open wounds in that continent will quickly heal and that the steps being made towards reconciliation, democracy and development will be consolidated. May the Divine Child, the Prince of Peace, grant an end to the outbreaks of tension that make uncertain the future of other parts of the world, in Europe and in Latin America."

The Pope is against warfare in Iraq, all right: he clearly wants an "end to the brutal violence" there.

It would be odd if he didn't.

But that's not the same as saying "no blood for oil" or "out of Iraq."

Catholic Belief: Simple? Yes and No

The elements of Catholic belief are simple enough so that almost anyone can understand them. The Nicene Creed is an example.

That's the 'big picture' stuff. When a person decides to get into details, the Catholic Church doesn't make things so easy for its followers.

Take tattoos, for example. I've never had one. And, I've seen some that broke new ground in bad taste. (I'm an American, and tattooing got popular here a few decades back.) When I converted to Catholicism, one of the many things I looked up was what the Church teaches about tattoos: are they good or bad?

Stick with me, I'm going somewhere with this.

The answer is: yes, and no. It depends. Self-mutilation is bad, and modesty is good.

Here's where it starts getting tricky.

"Mutilation" means interfering with the function of an organ. The skin is an organ, but it would take a remarkable tattoo to interfere with its function.

The modesty issue is, in part, a matter of content. A woman who had "I'm Easy" tattooed on her forehead would, arguably, have done something immodest. The man I saw at the Stearns County Fair last year, with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe tattooed on his bicep was not being immodest. At least, not in my opinion.

The Catholic Church is, literally, the Universal Church: and as such its rules are designed for all times, all places, and all cultures.

American culture, right now, is in at least one transitional phase. I have no idea whether tattoos will be "good" or "bad" here, when and if things settle down.

In some parts of the world, like the southwest Pacific, I understand that refusing to get a tattoo might be bad, because of the harm it would do to the person's relationship with family.

I found a relatively easy-to-read but detailed discussion of the tattoo question on the EWTN website.

What About the War on Terror?!

So, what about the Pope and the President? I said before, that the Pope has a job to do. Part of that job is letting people know what's involved in their choices.

As my wife's husband, and our kids' father, I have a responsibility to know what must inform my decisions.

I'm not, thank God, responsible for final decisions of war and peace. The president of the United States is. That's the president's job.

The Pope's job is not to micro-manage the decisions of presidents, kings, or other leaders. It's the Pope's job to state, clearly and in detail, the moral aspects of those decisions.

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.
Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.
Coverage of the Pope's visit, by people who understand Catholicism: "Pope Benedict XVI Apostolic Journey to the United States"
April 15 - 20, 2008, on

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.