John Paul II and the First Gulf War



Dear Reader,

One of the great cracks that broke open in the face of neoconservative Catholicism in the early 21st century was the dissonance between the Vatican and self-appointed voices of John Paul II in the United States, the Catholic neocons, over the 2003 Gulf War. The failed attempt by Michael Novak who traveled to Rome on behalf of the State Department to garner support for the war is well known as is the efforts of George Weigel and others to downplay John Paul II’s apparent opposition.

However, it is often forgotten that the late Holy Father condemned even more explicitly the first Gulf War led by president George H.W. Bush. In his Urbi and Orbi speech at the end of March 1991, John Paul II stated of the war:

“A choice was made of aggression and the violation of international law, when it was presumed to solve the tensions between the peoples by war, the sower of death..”

These were not the only comments made by John Paul regarding the injustice of the Gulf War.

While Catholic neocons in the past have admitted that John Paul did oppose the first Gulf War, in his most recent work Lessons in Hope, George Weigel tells a different story. According to Weigel, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

“confirmed that John Paul II had called President George H.W. Bush the night before the ultimatum to Saddam Hussein requiring him to evacuate Kuwait or face allied military action expired: the Pope said that if diplomacy couldn’t resolve a violation of international law that must not stand, he hoped the allies would win, Saddam would be ejected from Kuwait, and there would be as few casualties as possible.”

So, here we have a curious conundrum, and there are possibilities.

  1. Weigel is lying.
  2. Cardinal Tauran was lying.
  3. John Paul II told George H.W. Bush one thing and the world another (this is actually the worst possible scenario).


6 thoughts on “John Paul II and the First Gulf War

  1. Yeah, but there’s a lot of crypto-pacifism in much of what recent Popes have said. It’s similar to the death penalty; admit in principle that wars may be just, but never accept justifications for any actual wars. I don’t blame the neocons much as far as principle goes. It’s hard to see how Popes have the authority to bind us to hold that a given war is just or unjust, as opposed to binding us to the principles that must be used in making the determination. I would love to see the modern standards applied to any of the wars of the Middle Ages. I think that the many Christian kings and princes of that era would laugh.

    1. I agree. However, it is difficult to see either Gulf War or the recent destruction of Libya as being waged as just wars. Also, I’ll admit that Weigel is right to note that much of the resistance to the war among European clergy was prompted by hostility toward the United States–even if the Iraq War was a farce.

      1. For the first Gulf War, was Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait just? Meaning, if we apply the same standards to Iraq as to the United States, was the invasion just? I don’t see how. Is evicting an unjust occupier from another country just? Seems to be so, prima facie. If this were the Middle Ages, and we asked a bunch of medieval rulers whether it’s just/prudent to come to the aid of a neighbor whom an upstart rival has attacked, I think they all would say Yes.

      2. Iraq, like Iran and Syria, had been on the chopping block for a long time. They are threats to Israel, which dictates American foreign policy. It has nothing to do with Kuwait.

    1. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie gave Saddam the green light to invade Iraq in 1990. That is public knowledge and even on Wikipedia. It was a trap to provide an excuse to wage war against Iraq.

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