In a post-9/11 world, the U.S. courted Vatican approval of military actions in the Middle East

Though the Vatican's Deputy Foreign Minister, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, “noted that the Holy See could never applaud warfare” and “shared concerns that the military campaign was outstripping political strategies,” according to a leaked cable dated November 2, 2001, he assured U.S. Ambassador Jim Nicholson and South Asia Bureau Afghanistan Coordinator, Jeffrey J. Lunstead, that “the Holy See would support further political and financial initiatives” (2134: confidential).

Just over two weeks later, however, according to a cable dated November 19, 2001 and classified by Mr. Nicholson, “Vatican criticism of the war effort is now less likely, according to the Vatican Afghanistan Desk Officer [Monsignor Luis Marrano De Montemayor], since advances by the U.S.-led coalition facilitate a more effective response to Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis than [the Vatican] anticipated” (2205: confidential).

The U.S. actively worked to cultivate the Vatican's approval, as evidenced by Mr. Nicholson's recommendation that the U.S. “explore means to engage the Vatican in order to reinforce tacit Vatican support for U.S. policy goals in Afghanistan,” suggesting that “U.S. inclusion of [Vatican umbrella aid arm] Cor Unum (and Caritas, a related relief arm) would help elevate the Vatican to the rank of a coalition partner in the next phase of [U.S.] efforts,” according to the cable.

The Vatican, meanwhile, strove to convey the function of religion in establishing peace in West Asia, carving out a role for itself in the process.

“The masses in Islamic societies…depend on religious leadership,” Migliore is quoted as saying in the November 2, 2001 cable. “If religious leaders will not distance themselves from violence, then neither will the population at large…the Holy See can play a role to convince religious counterparts to repudiate violence” (2134: confidential).

Nine months later, the Vatican appears to have maintained a similar position, according to a cable documenting a meeting between Acting Deputy Chief of Mission George Frowick and Archbishop Antonio Veglio, Secretary for Eastern Churches and former nuncio in Beirut.

Modern option

According to the cable, Veglio “argued that people in Middle Eastern states should have the ‘modern' option of being secular, which makes for a better polity than does theocracy” (3387: confidential, dated July 26, 2002).

The cable recounts Veglio asserting that “in many Arab states the constitution is effectively the Koran.”

“Governments should no more have the Bible than the Koran as their constitution,” said Veglio, according to the cable, at least “if countries in the region were to move toward genuine democratic and tolerant governments.”

Christianity, of course, remains the main interest of the Vatican, and Veglio expressed worries about Church stability in the Arab countries, suggesting that this was a cause for concern for secular states as well.

“Christians are leaving the Middle East in great numbers, hollowing out millennia-old Christian communities,” according to Veglio, the cable says.

“The younger, more modern, secular and usually Christian people in the Arab Middle East are giving up on their countries and emigrating…Christian communities have been decimated by this emigration, which is something ‘the [radical] Muslims want',” it said.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)