The Denver Post
March 7, 2003
Michael Riley Denver Post Staff Writer
Caption: PHOTO: The Denver Post/Steve Dykes Part of Ambassador Jim Nicholson‘s job is convincing Pope John Paul II that a war against Iraq is the right thing to do.
Ambassador Jim Nicholson may have one of the toughest jobs in the ranks of American diplomacy: convincing Pope John Paul II that a war against Iraq is the right thing to do.
A staunch Catholic and a longtime Colorado Republican, Nicholson is also U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. He sat in at the White House on Wednesday as the pope’s special envoy met with President Bush in hopes of avoiding a war the pope has said would be “a defeat for humanity.”
In Denver on Thursday to receive an award from the Catholic Archdiocese for, among other things, championing “moral diplomacy,” Nicholson said that as a diplomat and a Catholic, he believes any war to end the regime of a brutal dictator would be “morally righteous.”
“Iraq and Saddam Hussein combined with the high risk of his cooperating with stateless terrorists presents a clear and imminent danger to the United States,” said Nicholson. “Those are the conditions under the catechism in which a civil authority can take action to protect his people.”
In that, the U.S. ambassador and the head of the world’s 1 billion Catholics simply disagree.
Although the pope publicly opposed the first Persian Gulf War and war in the Balkans, John Paul II has rarely staked so much on a diplomatic push to avoid war. In the past several weeks, the pope has hosted British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spain’s leader, Jose Maria Anzar. He also met with Tarik Aziz, Iraq’s deputy prime minister.
Nicholson described Wednesday’s meeting between Bush and Vatican envoy Pio Laghi as amicable.
In Denver, church officials have followed the Vatican’s lead in strongly condemning a potential strike against Iraq. In his Lenten message this week, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput told the state’s Catholics that “Iraq, 2003, is not Iraq, 1991. Once the fighting starts, the outcome cannot be predicted … and the results will be determined by bullets and blood.”
Greg Kail, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the church sees no contradiction in giving Nicholson the award.
“What we know about Ambassador Nicholson is that he understands and respects the church’s moral framework for evaluating a just war,” Kail said. “That’s why it’s so important to have someone who understands Catholic beliefs representing the interests of the United States to the Holy See.”
Nicholson noted that while they disagree about Iraq, the United States and the Vatican are working together on a wide variety of global problems.
Nicholson noted that by tradition and doctrine, Catholicism accepts the notion of a “just war.” In fact, the ambassador invited American theologian Michael Novak to Rome in February to argue the case with Vatican officials. A conservative Catholic, Novak has said that a strike that would end the regime of Saddam Hussein is morally obligatory.
“The pope is not a pacifist,” Nicholson said. “The pope does recognize that war sometimes is necessary, albeit as a last resort.”