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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

A pope of peace and Bush's war

THE FAÇADE of respect did not hide President Bush's utter disdain for the pleas for peace from Pope John Paul II. In his press conference Monday to announce that he would attend John Paul's funeral, Bush was asked by a reporter: ''How do you think this pope has affected America's spiritual and political life? And how much weight did you give to his opposition to the Iraq war?"

Bush began his answer by calling the pope courageous, moral, and godly. He talked about how the pope had a ''huge influence not only amongst, for example, young people in America, but around the world. One of his great legacies will be the influence he had on the young. He spoke to the poor. He spoke to morality."

Bush never answered the question on the Iraq invasion of 2003. The closest he got was, ''Of course he was a man of peace and he didn't like war. And I fully understood that. And I appreciated the conversations I had with the Holy Father on the subject."

Bush fled to a more pleasant façade, meandering to 2001 when he and his wife, Laura, looked out over a lake from the pope's summer residence, ''talking about his views of the world." Bush said of the funeral, ''We look forward to the majesty of celebrating such a significant human life."

Many legacies of John Paul are being deeply covered and debated, from whether he helped or hindered the Catholic Church's relationship to modern times to whether he was too detached and lenient in the American clergy sex abuse scandal. One that has received little play is the pope's desperate efforts to stop the world's wealthiest and most militarily powerful nation from invading Iraq. Bush called the pope a man of peace. Bush could not answer the question on Iraq because the pope's presence, even in death, continues to expose him to be a man of war.

Now that the invasion has been revealed to be a lie, with no weapons of mass destruction ever found, it makes it even more appalling how the pope's efforts were rebuffed. Bush said the pope had profound influence on children. On Iraq, Bush treated the pope like a well-meaning but naïve child.

Just before the war, the pope sent an envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, to ask Bush to exhaust every last means of diplomacy and work through the United Nations for a peaceful solution. The Vatican called the war illegal and unjust. But before the cardinal even touched down in Washington, the administration said the meeting would not matter. The White House countered the pope's claim that an invasion was unjust with apocalyptic visions of needing to stop a Hitler.   Continued...

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