Foreign Political Interference . . . Vatican Style. John M. Swomley discusses the Vatican’s intervention in the internal affairs of Lebanon, Poland, Argentina, Sudan, Biafra, Nicaragua, Palestine, United States, and the United Nations. From: THE HUMANIST, JULY/AUGUST 1997
Foreign Political Interference . . . Vatican Style
John M. Swomley
Reports that the Chinese, Indonesian, and perhaps other foreign governments tried to influence the White House through political contributions to the Democratic Party during the 1996 presidential election have prompted vocal outcries from Republicans quick to condemn. Then came evidence that the GOP has been far from immune to such foreign influence, and Democrats quickly put the shoe on the other foot.
Those surprised by all this ignore two important facts. First, the United States channeled millions of dollars during the Cold War to political parties in Western Europe, including at least $10 million to the Christian Democrats in Italy’s 1948 election campaign. The United States also used the CIA to overthrow elected foreign governments and to defeat other candidates, especially in Latin America.
Second, the Vatican is constantly interfering in American politics without any threat of congressional investigation. And such intervention occurs not only in the United States but across the world.
Since the Vatican’s intervention is almost as top secret as the CIA’s, the following little-known episodes, with one exception, are provided by Catholic writers. These insiders recognize that the Vatican’s actions don’t represent all or even most Roman Catholics. In fact, hundreds of thousands of American Catholics are so opposed to some of the positions of the pope and his U.S. appointees that they regularly vote for candidates who oppose the Vatican’s official line on contraception, abortion, aid to parochial schools, family planning, and other gender-and sex-related issues.
George E. Irani’s book, The Papacy and the Middle East, illustrates the Vatican’s involvement in Lebanon’s series of religious wars in the 1970s and 1980s. Irani writes, “The Holy See is not an impartial actor.. . . It has temporal and spiritual interests to defend.” It also has economic interests, according to Irani: “The Church’s financial interests are involved with those of Italian capital and the natural markets of Italy lie along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean.”
Vatican intervention includes a visit to Lebanon in 1982 by Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York as the vicar of U.S. military forces. Monsignor John G. Meaney, regional director of the pontifical mission in Lebanon, said Cooke’s visit “had great influence in getting the State Department perspective on the right track. It shaped their policy to a great extent and the policy of Congress.”
The Vatican also works with and through Maronite and Melkite Catholics in Lebanon. Among the various religious militias, the New York Times reported in 1989 that the Maronite was the largest, with about 26,000 fighters, including one faction known as the “Lebanese Forces,” which alone numbered 6,000 fighters.
Irani also wrote about the Maronite militias, citing Salim Al-Laouzi, an important Lebanese journalist:
In the early 1970s . . . some Maronite leaders, through the monks of Kaslik, contacted the holy See to ask for suggestions regarding possible training centers for Maronite militias in Europe. [Al-Laouzi] said, “A secret military organization based in Rome sent experts who had previous experiences in the wars of southern Sudan and Biafra.
These experts in guerrilla warfare picked the best among Christian militias and sent them to the city of Anvers [Belgium], where they joined special training centers?’ More over, the Lebanese journalist alleged that the Holy See ad vised the Maronite monks to fund the training of the militias through the Phalangist Party.
According to the October 27, 1989, National Catholic Reporter, the Maronite Catholics in the 1930s “had become enamored of Hitler’s Nazi Youth and Mussolini’s Fascist Youth and from that concept fashioned their own Phalange Party”
According to Catholics for a Free Choice, in Poland, where abortion is now legal, the pope “has started a non-governmental organization called Pharmacists for Life. Those pharmacists who are opposed to contraception go into pharmacies around the country, buy up what meager stocks of contraceptives are available and destroy them?’
Emilio F. Mignone, a Catholic layperson, wrote a remark able book entitled Witness to Truth: The Complicity of Church and Dictatorship in Argentina, which exposes the plans for a military coup on March 24, 1976, in that country Mignone says those plans also included “the three chief members of the military junta [having] a long meeting with the military vicariate,” the bishops responsible for relations with the armed forces. The following year, after hundreds of “disappearances,” tortures, and murders had taken place at the hands of the military-- including those of clergy opposed to the military - Archbishop Aldolfo Tortolo announced, “The Church thinks that the circumstances at this time demand that the armed forces run the government?’
In December of that year, Bishop Victorio Bonamin, the vicar for the army, in describing the influence of the small communist movement in Argentina, said, “This struggle is a struggle to defend morality human dignity and ultimately a struggle to defend God. . . .Therefore, I pray for divine protection over the ‘dirty war’ in which we are engaged?’
Pope John Paul II participated in this process in 1982 by appointing a military vicar, Bishop Jose Medina, who, according to Mignone, “publicly defended the legitimacy of torture.” The pope not only knew about the situation in Argentina but visited there in 1980 during the military dictatorship. He refused to meet with human rights groups but told a group of mothers to “have faith, patience, and hope.” In marked contrast to his public disapproval of events in other countries, such as Poland and Nicaragua, Mignone writes that the pope did not speak publicly about the events in Argentina except to say that,”before starting back to Buenos Aires, Archbishop Pio Laghi [his papal ambassador] spoke with the commanders and officers in the army post at Tucuman and gave them a papal blessing.”
An Associated Press story in the May 21, 1997, Kansas City Star reports that Laghi--now in Rome and one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most prominent cardinals--has been accused by a leading human rights group in Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, of complicity in the torture, murder, and kid napping of thousands of suspected political dissidents. The group charges that he “collaborated closely with the 1976-1983 military dictatorship” during the so-called dirty war and, on the testimony of “a bishop, seven! priests, a mother superior, and two other persons, [was seen] at the government’s secret pris ons and torture centers “The group has asked Italy to prosecute Laghi and the pope to lift the cardinal’s diplomatic immunity so he can be brought to trial.
Laghi was also papal envoy to Washington after Ronald Reagan became president. He acted as the pope’s discreet troubleshooter, based upon his service in Argentina, Nicaragua, and Palestine. In Washington, Laghi’s work was easier because he had the collaboration of ardent right-wing Catholics who were in strategic and sensitive positions within the Reagan administration. For example, CIA Director William Casey was a member of the elite and highly secret Knights of Malta, which pledges allegiance to the pope. Before Reagan nominated him to the CIA post, Casey was part of a small group that chose key Reagan officials, including cabinet heads, according to Penny Lernoux in her book, The People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism. Others in the group included two Knights who were influential right-wing Catholics: James L. Buckley, brother of William Buckley, and Frank Shakespeare, chair of the Heritage Foundation.
Among the key Reagan administration players who met with Laghi were such right-wing Catholics as Casey and his chosen associates: Senior Foreign Policy and National Security Adviser Richard Allen; National Security Advisor William Clark; Secretary of State Alexander Haig; General Vernon Walters; and U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See William Wilson. In Anna Maria Askari’s book, The Vatican and the Reagan Administration, there is reference to taped interviews with Ambassador Wilson in which he points to Salvador, Asia, all the “trouble spots” in the world and says the Pope has a hand in all of them. Where does Wilson detect differences between the Pope and the United States? “No conflict at all;’ says Wilson. Any misunderstandings? “None at all. We talk a lot to them. They listen very carefully.”
The following are among the Vatican-inspired changes in U.S. foreign policy largely unknown to the American public:
▪ The CIA, having many Catholics in key positions, established a working relationship with the Vatican after World War II and cooperated with the Curia (Vatican bureaucrats) in helping Nazi criminals find refuge, usually in Latin America.
▪ The CIA supplied the Curia with background data on “diplomats accredited to the Vatican;’ according to Penny Lernoux in The People of God.
▪ The CIA, in response to Vatican political strategy, “pumped $65 million into Italian centrist and right-wing movements between 1946 and 1972, according to hearings by the House of Representatives,” Lernoux also wrote.”Meanwhile, Catholic Action’s papal troops prepared for battle with U.S. jeeps, guns, and other supplies.”
▪ The Catholic bishops, led by Archbishop Joseph Bernadin, pressured then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in August 1976 to put a Roman Catholic in the cabinet post supervising the Agency of International Development (MD). In 1979, President Carter appointed Joseph Califano, a Roman Catholic, who ended the thirteen-year tenure of Dr. R.T. Ravenholt as director of the State Department’s global population program.
▪ In 1980, Senator Frank Church, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, stating, “Catholics . . . are requesting that any aid program that we may embark upon in any foreign land include information and services which relate to and support natural family planning methods.”
▪ On January 10, 1984, the Reagan administration established full diplomatic relations with the Vatican, ending more than a century of U.S. opposition to such relations. Although challenged by a wide spectrum of interests, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
▪ During the U.S.-financed “contra” war, MD assisted the Archdiocesan Commission for Social Promotion (COPROS) and the diocese in Nicaragua in their opposition to the Sandinistas.
▪ In 1984, the Reagan administration, at the request of the Vat can, announced at the World Conference on Population in Mexico City that it was reversing its many years of commitment to international family planning and then withdrew funding from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
▪ In 1985, Mother Teresa came to the United States to lobby Congress against passage of legislation that would require family planning providers to give access to all family planning methods.
▪ In 1986, the U.S. Catholic Conference lobbied Congress to stop funding of contraceptive research and to make natural family planning - supported by the Vatican - the preferred method of family planning.
▪ By 1985, U.S. funding of natural family planning programs had grown to $7.8 million, and MD awarded a $20 million grant to Georgetown University, a Catholic institution, to review all such international programs. AID also awarded a $6.8 million grant to the Family of the Americas Foundation, which pro motes natural family planning worldwide, does not supply information on other methods, and condemns contraception.
▪ Catholic Relief Services administers only the Vatican’s natural family planning programs, despite receiving about 77 percent of its annual $290 million budget from the U.S. government.
In addition to this kind of behind-the-scenes influence on Catholic officials in Congress and in the White House, the Vatican has become so bold as to try to dictate U.S. domestic policy. On June 25, 1992, it released a statement to all U.S. bishops which began, “Recently legislation has been proposed in some American states which would make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal?’ The Vatican then provided a list of categories where discrimination should be legal, including teachers, coaches, tenants, adoption and foster care personnel, and the extension of company health benefits to an employee’s homosexual partner.
When a bill to guarantee civil rights to homosexuals was before the Chicago City Council in 1986, “the political consensus was that it would pass with the votes of at least thirty alder men," wrote Lawrence Lader in his book, Politics, Power, and the Church. Then Cardinal Bernadin “condemned the bill” in violent language, and it was defeated thirty to eighteen.
It is obvious from such intervention in foreign and domes tic policy and in its opposition to both contraceptives and abortion, that the Vatican views itself as the ruler of a theocratic world state, with the authority to tell legislators in democratic nations what they must or must not legislate.
If someone argues that the! church is merely engaged in moral instruction, it is essential to note the distinction between a civil state and a church. In the United States, the Constitution requires the government to “promote the general welfare;’ not just the welfare of those approved by the Vatican. Moreover, the Vatican is not just a church; it is also a state ruled by the same people who rule the church.
The Vatican has, according to Paul Blanshard in American Freedom and Catholic Power, “a full civil government with a flag, a police force, courts and postage stamps. It issues currency and passports to its citizens, and has a large and active diplomatic corps, headed by a Secretary of State with ambassadors called nuncios." The government is completely autocratic with all legislative powers vested in the pope.
This means that there is no separation of church and state.
It also means that the Vatican claims jurisdiction “everywhere where there are Catholics." It claims representation in the United Nations and functions like a nation-state in international gatherings at the same time that it functions like a church. Yet, American politicians would never investigate the Vatican’s numerous attempts to influence or control American foreign or domestic policy because, like a chameleon, it would claim it was merely functioning as a church, not as a state. In fact, it is already so powerful that anyone who tried to investigate it would find such an endeavor a political liability.
All this is evidence why political ecumenism is a real danger. Progressive Catholics and non-Catholics must examine every proposal by Catholic bishops and Catholic politicians with unusual scrutiny as to whether they will move us ever closer to a theocratic state--quite like the state advocated by such Protestant right-wing groups as the Christian Coalition, Promise Keepers, Focus on the Family, and James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries. There is some evidence that they may already be in bed together.
John M. Swomley is an emeritus professor of social ethics at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. He is also president of Americans for Religious Liberty and serves on the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union.