Vatican Reluctant to Support Iraq War

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Feb. 12, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

Watch The Big Story with John Gibson weeknights at 5 p.m. ET

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: In the words General William Tecumseh Sherman, "War is hell," so the Vatican is hoping to give peace a better chance in Iraq. Pope John Paul II sent a delegation to Baghdad with a personal message for Saddam Hussein, appealing for full cooperation with U.N. inspectors…

Meanwhile, a prominent American theologian was in Rome trying to make the case that military action would be a just war. Michael Novak was invited to the Vatican by U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, James Nicholson. Earlier, I asked Mr. Novak if he was hoping to convince the Pope to not speak out against war?


MICHAEL NOVAK, CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN: [The Pope] always speaks out against war. He's been very steady on that. He has on certain occasions — when there's a just cause and where he thinks all the conditions have been met — thought that war was just, humanitarian intervention — in Kosovo, for example, and certainly in the war against terrorism, and by implication in Afghanistan.

This time, he's been more reluctant. But the Vatican has always been careful to say that if the United Nations reaches a determination that the only recourse, as a last resort to get Iraq to disarm, is war then that will meet the test. I think they would rather not have that happen. And maybe this last emissary to Baghdad, Cardinal… maybe he will be able to get Saddam Hussein to cooperate.

GIBSON: While using the reasoning and the history of the Vatican itself and the church itself, how were you able to argue this is a just war?

NOVAK: Well, I argued it on the grounds of self-defense. One of the two reasons why we went into Iraq in 1991, one reason was the invasion [of Kuwait]. But the other reason was the existence of chemical arms and the beginning of a nuclear program, which threatened to destabilize the program.

And we cut the war short because Saddam was ready for peace negotiations within 100 hours. And the U.N. imposed on him the condition that he must disarm and prove that he's disarmed. He hasn't done that.

So that threat, which is a kind of aggression, is still in play. That's why the Security Council came back in the autumn of this past year and repeated the same resolution it gave back in 1991-1992, resolution 687, that Iraq must disarm and must prove that they disarmed.

We had other nations do this, South Africa, Kazakhstan, other nations in the last 20 years. And we've only had four or five verifiers in the field. Because they disarmed, and they destroyed their arms, it was easy to show. This man has had seven times. He said he's given a full and complete statement, but the United Nations inspectors said [that that's]… a lie.

GIBSON: Right, we know that, and I'm sure the Vatican knows that. Did you argue to the Vatican that actually opposing the war gives Saddam Hussein aid and comfort and the Vatican shouldn't take a position one way or another?

NOVAK: No, because that's not my judgment to make. The Vatican is thinking about the relations in the future of Muslims and the West, and thinking about the problems of Christians and others in Muslim countries. It has many things to think about. I did not pretend to give advice. What I wanted to lay out is why from the United States this is a war of self- defense. And why we worry every day that the weapons that Saddam has, and we know he has — the French and Germans built them for goodness sake… they know [Hussein] has them and Al Qaeda gives him foot solders to deliver those weapons. [We worry that in one of our cities]… three liters of anthrax, or botulism or sarin or ricin will be distributed, put in the water supply, or in heating units, or in subway cars in the subway system and kill thousands upon thousands of people…

GIBSON: Mr. Novak, you are being diplomatic about this. But I understand that on the level below the Pope — [which is] still a fairly high level in the church — you could detect, basically, anti-American feelings among those officials, irrespective of supporting the war or not. [They] just think Americans are wrong and are disliking Americans at this point.

NOVAK: I was asked, John, by some Vatican officials [if I thought] that some of the statements made by some of the people you are speaking of, the lower levels at the Vatican, had seemed to Americans as anti-American. And I answered, "Yes. I think some of them."

For instance, La Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuit magazine which works closely with the state department of the Vatican, has said that Americans are in this for oil. And I said, "Look, if we wanted oil, we could have done that 12 years ago. That isn't the motive. The French and the Germans already have contracts to develop the oil fields".

They're very concerned about it. Why didn't [the magazine] point out their interests, and those of Russia in Iraq? That would be fair. That's what I would expect of a universal church, which is to mention everything.

GIBSON: Mr. Novak, thank you very much for being with us. And good luck as you keep making this argument.

NOVAK: Thank you, sir.

Click here to order the complete transcript.

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2003 Fox News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2003 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, Inc.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.