Corridors of Power: The Vatican’s Peace Mission, the IRS as Phish Bait, and More

Corridors of Power: The Vatican’s Peace Mission, the IRS as Phish Bait, and More

PEACE MISSION -- According to a soon-to-be published book on the history of U.S.-Vatican relations, President George Bush told an emissary of Pope John Paul II in early March 2003 that Jesus was guiding him in deciding whether to invade Iraq. Cardinal Pio Laghi, a senior Vatican diplomat, had come to Washington with a last-minute appeal from the pope to avert an American attack on Iraq. According to the cardinal's own account, quoted in "Parallel Empires: The Vatican and the United States -- Two Centuries of Alliance and Conflict," his meeting with Bush in the Oval Office began with the delivery of a letter from the pope -- which Bush placed on his desk, unopened. In the course of their conversation, Bush told Laghi, "Jesus saved me from alcoholism," and now Jesus was guiding him to make a more difficult decision, whether to go to war.

The book's author, Massimo Franco, writes, "Bush had no doubts. He knew reason was on his side. So was God, as he told Laghi." Franco quotes the cardinal as saying: "He quoted verses from the Bible. He spoke and behaved as if he was divinely inspired, and seemed genuinely to believe that this was a war of right against wrong. We spoke at length on the consequences of war. I asked him, 'Do you realize the consequences of occupying Iraq? The confusion; the fighting between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds?' But at that moment, Bush saw only the triumph of democracy." When the cardinal left, sensing that his mission had failed, Bush had still not opened the pope's letter.

Before leaving for Rome, Cardinal Laghi also had a sharp exchange with then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who lectured him about the need to stop the cancer of Saddam Hussein from spreading, and an equally chilling, if more amiable one of sorts with U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace (incidentally, an Italian-American), who cheerfully assured Laghi, "Don't worry, Your Eminence, we'll do it quickly and well." (Note: "Parallel Empires" was translated from the Italian by this writer.)

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