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December 17, 2003


Christopher Rake

Thanks for sharing this.


It's also worth checking out what the indispensible Michael Novak had to say about the good Cardinal:

Grant Gallicho

If the world had only seen thirty seconds of Saddam's examination, I wouldn't really complain. But, as was the case with too much 9/11 footage, the video of Saddam's examination, the tongue depressor, checking his head for lice (?), was played over and over again. There was plenty of footage of Saddam sitting in custody, but the humiliating stuff was what they released, what was aired (surprise). It is undignified and unbecoming.

Patrick Rothwell

I disagree with the Holy See's (and Cardinal Martino's) position on the legitimacy of the war against Iraq for many reasons that I won't go into here. However, I do agree with Martino that the videotape of Saddam Hussein was an offense against his dignity. It has long been considered to be contrary contrary to the dignity of prisoners of war by distributing humiliating photos. By any moral (as opposed to legal) standard, he is a prisoner of war, and to display pictures of him being poked and prodded in a culture where touching a person (much less a deposed head of state) is considered to be a gross insult. I doubt seriously whether we would have showed the world a video tape of us poking and prodding Emperor Hirohito of Japan who like Saddam Hussein was the head of a brutally evil military machine that was responsible for the rapine and deaths of thousands of civilians and our POWs. I certainly would like to think that we (Americans) could have done better.

For what it's worth, I don't have any feelings of pity for Saddam. Yet, despite the fact that he is a monster of iniquity, Saddam remains a human being, not a space alien, who has a natural right to his digntiy, and I am no position to judge Cardinal Martino's feelings of pity for the man.

Were his words ill-advised? His words have been the source of much confusion. He would have been better off if he simply kept his mouth shut. Ill-advised and ill-formulated as his words were, they were hardly beyond the pale.

Also, if you surf the web, you will find many left-wingers who believe that Cardinal Martino is a shill for the U.S. Government and American agri-business interests because he sponsored a seminar on GM food in which - so they claim - he stacked the deck of expert in favor of GM food. Prescinding from the merits (or lack thereof)of these people's arguments, it only shows that when it comes to an evaluation of whether Martino is an anti-American crankpot or a boot-licking American patsy, it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

Michael Tinkler

Why quote him? Because he's the head of the commission for Peace'n'Justice, that's why. He's not some no-name Italian bishop!



I look forward to the day by day,point by point,detail by detail,of the horrors this man was responsible for; then those who opposed this war can comment,if they have the guts!

Michael Tinkler

Patrick -- we did something worse. We demoted Hirohito from god to mortal. What kind of offense against cultural dignity was that?

Victor Morton


I think some sort of offense against Saddam's dignity (in the broadest, secular sense of that word) was absolutely essential. This was a man who built a cult of personality, capitalizing on the Arabs' honor-based culture, that held his country in the grip of fear for decades, and even right to that very day from hiding. That "spell" (and yes, I do intend the connotation of magic), that aura of godhood (and yes, I intend those connotations also) HAD to be broken -- not primarily for the sake of demoralizing Iraqi guerrillas, though hopefully it will do that too, but for the sake of the possibility of building a decent society in Iraq. So, not only did we have to take pictures of him, those pictures had to show him as a mere mortal -- dirty and disheveled, a "coward" who allowed himself to be taken prisoner, a man who gets his teeth examined like anyone else. Obviously, there'd be such a thing as too much offense to his dignity as a human (I guess ... a prostate exam), but given that his mouth DOES have to be checked for immediate security reasons (cyanide pill and all), this seemed like a reasonable choice.


Amen, Victor!

His prisoners should have been treated as well!


Hear, hear, Victor!!! I, for one, cannot believe that some of us are bothered because of the supposed "rude" treatment of Saddam. He's very, very lucky that he was found by our civilized American soldiers. Otherwise, his head could be on a pike and his body could have been dragged through the streets. It's amazing to me that no matter how well we (America) do, it's never going to be good enough.


Andrew Sullivan has already framed the issue of same-sex marriage debates by Martino's gaffe, to this effect:

who are Vatican prelates who have such tender compassion on the likes of Hussein to suddenly be so crystalline pure in their rejection of the needs of gay people and their families?

However you try to argue with it, the effect of this approach will be devastating. And it *will* be used. Often. And again. It is precisely the kind of argument pragmatic, fairness-oriented Americans are very prone to be open to. Rhetorically (not logically), it's a closer.

Patrick Rothwell

May I point out that, according to the Wall Street Journal, that Saddam pulled a knife on "Euro-weenie" Cardinal Etchegaray earlier this year?

When Saddam Hussein met with papal emissary Cardinal Roger Etchegaray in Baghdad a few weeks ago, the Iraqi dictator responded to questions about why he wasn't cooperating with United Nations weapons inspectors by drawing a long knife. Holding it for the cardinal to see, he ran his finger along the sharp edge of the blade--it was an obvious gesture at intimidation.

But Mr. Etchegaray wasn't stricken with fear. He simply reached into his pocket and drew out a rosary.

"We Christians have weapons too," the cardinal told the dictator.


I wonder how many of us would be as brave as His Eminence faced with a knife from Saddam - a man who would not hesitate to use it if he felt it served his purposes. Let us think about stories like this before we start dismissing Cardinal Martino and his fellow churchmen for expressing "pity" for this thug of a man.

Oh, and Michael T. I get your point, but I would submit that American forces objectively did nothing to Emperor Hirohito that denigrated his human dignity, but instead bent over backwards to preserve it. As for his divine dignity - well - that's another story.

Rod Dreher

Liam: However you try to argue with it, the effect of this approach will be devastating. And it *will* be used. Often. And again. It is precisely the kind of argument pragmatic, fairness-oriented Americans are very prone to be open to. Rhetorically (not logically), it's a closer.

Exactly right. And you and I can argue until we're blue in the face why Andrew Sullivan is wrong and disingenuous in his comparison, but it won't make a dime's worth of difference to average people. The man on the street sees a high-ranking leader in a Church that says the nice gay couple next door are living mortal sin and shouldn't be allowed to "marry" ... yet this same leader feels sorry for a mass-murdering dictator being shown on television with a tongue depressor in his mouth.

It was the same thing re: child sex abuse and You Name It: "Why should I listen to the Church when it tells me to do [fill in the blank] when these bishops turn a blind eye to the rape of children by priests?" Well, I could tell you why if you had six minutes to spare, but my argument could be logically airtight, and it's not going to make a lot of emotional sense to the listener. And you know what? If I weren't a Catholic who was firmly convinced and well catechized, it wouldn't make a lick of sense to me either.

Victor Morton

Preach it, Rod.

The reason why the sex-abuse and the cover-up IS relevant to absolutely everything (in a way that Church teachings are not) is because of the generalized Scandal that it creates against the Church in the broader society. All you have to do to know what a Grave Scandal against the faith actions like this cardinal's are (and the sex-abuse and coverup) is just surf secular news sites or speak to non-Catholics.

Or as the Catechism puts it (2285)
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others.

Spiritual death of little ones tied to abuse of teaching offices. Prophetic.

Patrick Rothwell

Kevin Jones hits it perfectly:

"Yes, the Church should be more like Christ, who came not for grievous sinners but for the righteous. She should cast her pitiless stare across the world, granting mercy only to those who deserve it, and withholding it from unworthy devils like Hussein. Her prayer shall be "Lord, thank you for not making me a sinner, like that dictator." Her damnations shall reconcile the world and usher in the peace and justice we all so richly deserve."


Joseph DHippolito

The fact that Cardinal Martino would even make such idiotic comments shows the extent of anti-American, anti-Semitic, pro-Arab sentiment among Vatican prelates.

Remember how L'Osservatore Romano, during the siege of the Church of the Nativity, accused the Israelis of descecrating Christ's birthplace (though Palestinian terrorists were holed up and abusing the priests and nuns there).

Remember how Absp. Hilarion Capucci, on an Vatican diplomatic mission to Iraq, praised Iraq's support for the Palestinian "cause" (which included gifts of $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers).

Remember how Saddamite toady Tariq Aziz received a warm welcome from Vatican prelates while Michael Novak received the cold shoulder from them as he went to argue the U.S. case for war.

Remember how this pope constantly condemns Western "cultures of death" for tolerating abortion and contraception yet has never described the Palestinian Authority in such a way -- though the PA's education ministry encourages students to "martyr" themselves and has never formally renounced suicide bombing as a political strategy.

Cardinal Martino is not alone. He represents a substantial body of opinion in Rome, opinion that this pope has failed to confront forthrightly.

Then again, given this pope's flaccid response to the clerical abuse crisis, what should we expect?


Patrick, love without justice is an enabler. Ask anyone who has coped with a substance abuse situation to find out what this sort of forgiving love will accomplish.

Christ preached love, but never suggested we abandon the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, or the concept of hell.

Joseph, I can't figure out what it is about Rome and the Arabs. Very very few of them are Christian. So why the love affair with Islam? I simply don't get it. Is Rome still Catholic?

Jeanne Schmelzer

I think that a problem with what Cardinal Martino said was that he felt sorry for Saddam. My hubby said the same but then acknowledged that it was only a feeling that was evoked from seeing the images. It's not what we FEEL, it is what we know and THINK. Feelings can be misleading. Andrew Sullivan FEELS stuff about homosexuality. We have to engage our mind and reason and then choose the right thing. Feelings follow after. They aren't too reliable except to tell us a little about ourselves at that moment. So when I tell someone I feel this or thus rather than tell them my reasoning, it automatically puts up a red flag to the listener even as the listener doesn't realize what's just happened. One cannot argue with feelings. One becomes defensive in the face of feelings rather than reasoning out the situation.

On another note, what happened to Saddam and his examination will also happen to us at the final judgment when everyone will know each others' thoughts, sins, makeup. It just came to him early, even as we really don't know him like we'll know him in the afterlife.

Heck, we even know what was in his refrigerator and strewn around his house when we took him.

Rod Dreher

I wonder if the folks who found themselves so filled with pity for Saddam, having seen him shown on TV getting his piehole inspected, would have had the stomach to watch as much video of dead women and children on the streets of Halabja, gassed by Saddam.

Honestly, y'all, some of you sound like you come from another universe, not my own.

Victor Morton

Carrie wrote:

"Love without justice is an enabler ... Christ preached love, but never suggested we abandon the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, or the concept of hell."

YES, YES, YES, YES. That's what "love" now means in this day and age. From the perspective of seeing the Church as a necessarily countercultural institution (which is obviously not exhaustive, but it is one reasonable understanding), what we need from it *TODAY* in our Luv Culture is Judgment and Justice. Not only did Jesus not say to do away with judgment or the Ten Commandments, but He said *exactly the contrary.*

In fact, there's a brilliant film scheduled for release next year, that I have already written about here ...


... that deals exactly with this matter. And will be (and has been among Festival audiences) widely reviled for it.



At the risk of beating a tired horse to death, the Luv culture of Roman Catholicism mirrors rather too closely the Luv culture of Rosicrucianism. Roman Catholic Luv culture is rather recent. We talked a lot about "charity" before the Council. Back when we talked a lot about "sin."

Luv culture promotes way too much of "Do what thou wilt." Would anyone listen if I suggested Responsibility culture for a change?

Kevin Miller

"Sincere, unqualified wish."

Trans: Preach only that part of the Gospel with which I, Hudson, deign to agree.

Isn't it liberals for whom "sensitivity" is supposed to be the summum bonum?

Andrea Harris

I must say I am finding this prissy dismay over a simple ENT exam to be rather curious. You would think that Hussein had been shown stripped naked in a public square in Baghdad.

By the way, while pity may be a normal human reaction to seeing any person in the low condition that the dictator was found in, it's not exactly a laudable emotion if it is not qualified. It becomes ostentatious when the object of pity has committed as many crimes as this one has. The Hussein-pitiers seem to be saying, "Look what humanitarians we are! We're so much better than all you primitives with your uncomfortable and difficult 'justice' ideas!" Or as has already been pointed out, this distorted idea of "love" is no better than the "love" that drives relatives of drug addicts to help their junkie relations score a hit.

Franklin Jennings

It would appear that Patrick Rothwell has made the mistake so many others have before, confusing legal or social or cultural definitions of dignity with the theological definition.

We did absolutely nothing in that video tape that showed disregard for "Saddam Hussein as a being made in the image and likeness of God." Maybe if we'd trussed him nude to the heavy cannon of one of those armored behemoths we have over there and paraded him through Tikrit while we played "Look, Saddamites, where your precious leader is now" on the loudspeaker, but as it stands his dignity has not been offended in the least.

Not only is Saddam's dignity wholly intact, so are his ears, fingers and toes. That's a great deal more legal and social dignity than he ever extended another human being over which he held power.

In short, if the Cardinal was using a theological definition he was mistaken. If he was using some other definition he needs to close his trap and get his mind back on what's important.


Once and for all let's drop the argument that anyone is objecting to a "simple ENT exam" -- I haven't read anyone objecting to that. What's being objected to is the televising of it, which does seem contrary to common standards, including, reportedly, the Geneva conventions. If it's correct that the televising of the exam violates those conventions (and I haven't had the chance to look it up myself), what is our justification for violating a standard of international law?

I thank God we do have Cardinals like Martino --- and for that matter, someone like Patrick Rothwell,who can always be counted on to blog the truth, unpopular or not.

Rod Dreher

Trans: Preach only that part of the Gospel with which I, Hudson, deign to agree.

Oh, give me a break. There is very little of the Gospel in what Martino did, and even more to the point, in the way he did it. Here's some news for the Niedermeyerian martinets among us: just because a cardinal says or does something, it's not necessarily right.

I can just imagine the letter from Martino to the Tongue-Depressed White Martyr of Baghdad: "Yours has been a successful life of governing, sadly impaired by mass sadism. ...God bless you, Saddam."

Bolie Williams IV

The Geneva Conventions explicitly do not apply to enemies who do not follow them. Saddam has broken plenty, so they have no bearing on how we treat him.

And just what is so important about preserving his dignity? He's an evil man. Why should we worry about his dignity? As far as I can tell, we treated him like any other prisoner, no beatings, torture, abuse, etc... Televising his capture and treatment shows the world that he's captured, we're treating him well, and he's just a man and not some kind of mythical demigod.

As far as I can tell, much of the world has gone completely off the deep end. I can't figure out why televising the medical exam of a mass murderer, tyrant, dictator, etc... is even worthy of comment compared to other stuff that's going on in the world.

As far as the Catholic Church goes, didn't Jesus say that he who is without sin should be the one to cast the first stone? Didn't he say that you should not judge others lest you be judged? Perhaps the Church needs to back to the basics...

Bolie IV

Rod Dreher

As a father, I have always kept squarely in front of me, when thinking about the Scandal, "These men -- Cardinal Law and the lot -- would have seen the John Geoghans shove their penises into the mouth of *your* son, that precious little soul sitting at the table right now eating his Cheerios -- and they wouldn't have cared about you or him one bit, only the priest who attacked your son. Never forget that, because it's what they did to Catholics like you." I can't explain why they behaved that way, but the record is clear: they did. And they will do everything possible to avoid judgment and accountability for it. They are as perverse as perverse can be. Never forget that.

I've kept this personal in my mind, always thinking about how my own son could have easily been victimized, so the horror of what was done to children stays real to me, and doesn't fade into abstraction. A Catholic friend of mine, early in the scandal, told me to quit being so hard on the bishops. "I know they haven't covered themselves in glory in all this," he began -- and I thought about what kind of sin is obscured by the phrase "haven't covered themselves in glory." The euphemism renders Evil abstract, and is deployed to absolve the guilty, and to further oppress those who have suffered by minimizing the nature and degree of their suffering.

If you think about your own child being treated by priests and bishops as the victims of Geoghan and his ilk were, it becomes very hard to see this mess in the abstract. It becomes even harder to understand how bishops could have done what they did.

How much more appalling and incomprehensible is Renato Martino's statement to people who have undergone grotesque tortures at the hands of Saddam, and who have had family members executed by the dictator? How would you feel if your tongue had been cut out by Saddam (which was one of his favorite punishments for those believed to have spoken against him), to hear a Vatican cardinal express pity for Saddam's being treated like an animal for having a piece of soft wood, not a blade, pressed against his tongue? How would you feel if your father and mother lay rotting in a mass grave under the sand, put there by Saddam's bullets? How would you feel, knowing the excruciating suffering of you and your family is essentially invisible to a top cardinal of the Roman church, but the mere inconvenience of the murderer and torturer grieves him?

So, please spare me the bourgeois bromides about how we have a Christian duty to denounce showing Saddam's being checked for lice on television. It is clear what those slogans are meant to conceal.


Beautiful, Rod, and dead on.

I wonder what Walker Percy would have made of Martino's tender pity towards Saddam? I've been recalling lately Percy's leit motif from The Thanatos Syndrome:

"Tenderness leads to the gas chambers! On with the jets!"

How anyone can argue that Scripture forbids even mild humiliation of a deposed mass murderer — for the sake of demoralizing his partisans who are even now preparing more suicide bombings — is beyond me.

Are those who argue such thrown in turmoil over Jesus' condemnation of Herod as "that fox"?

How do they bear to read of David, not only severing the head of Goliath after he killed him, but bringing it as a trophy to Jerusalem?


Should St. Luke have refrained from recording the humiliation of Ananias and Sapphira? (A humiliation that seems to have been recorded, in part, as a lesson to the Church?)


And are we to regard Our Lady's exulting in the Magnificat

He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.

as insufficiently respectful of the human dignity of the corrupt rulers the arm of the Lord has overthrown?

Joseph DHippolito

Why the love affair with Islam, Carrie? I think there are several reasons:

1. Catholic and Muslim representatives unite against abortion and contraception in meetings of various international agencies.

2. Islam is seen as a monothesistic equal to Judaism and Christianity -- despite the fact that, unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam denies the necessity of blood atonement for sin (and even denies that Christ died on the cross!)

3. Islam is a perfect facade behind which some Vatican prelates can express their anti-Semitic (and anti-American) tendencies.

4. Islam is seen as a fellow warrior against secularism and materialism. When Bernard Law visited (and prayed in) a Boston-area mosque late last year, he said that he was proud to associate with such "fundamentalists."

Now as to whether Rome is still Catholic, Carrie, perhaps the more appropriate question is whether Rome is still Christian.

Michael Tinkler

I agree with FJ:

t would appear that Patrick Rothwell has made the mistake so many others have before, confusing legal or social or cultural definitions of dignity with the theological definition.

I think we're dealing with a Mediterranean guy-dignity thing -- the kind of mentalite that leads to honor killings -- rather than theology.

Of course, I might be wrong. Perhaps Renato cardinal Martino is a great-souled person who cares for all. His previous statements do not encourage me to believe that, but after all someone made him a cardinal in OCTOBER of 2003. That is a sign of how the Curia feels about him and his opinions.

The original post asks why people are assuming he speaks for the Church. THAT'S why. Because he does on lots and lots of issues.


Isn't the criticism of Martino similar to that Christopher Hitchens and others have made of Mother Teresa for supposedly lending support to Duvalier, Keating, et.al by accepting their donations? In fact, Martino's remarks amount to showing sympathy for the plight of an evil man. Mother Teresa allegedly made statements much more overtly supportive of the Duvaliers, who certainly rivaled Saddam in their tyranny.

George Lee

Martino has been criticized for making statements so excessive as to be false, and thus unjust. For example, he said Saddam had been treated like a cow when in truth he was treated like an ordinary human patient.

He also said he felt pity for Saddam in the midst of his tragedy. But Saddam is not in the midst of a tragedy. There was never a "Why him"? in the minds of onlookers. He was not a basically decent enough person brought down by a hidden flaw. It would mock his accountabilty to claim that incomprehensible Fate had guided him to the spot he is now in.

The film, of course, remains. Not every patient is filmed. But the film had a just purpose, and I hope, effect. It was not pernicious. In a few moments it revealed that 30 years of images of Saddam were no more than fun house mirror illusions, distortions of reality. He might have been Ted Bundy in the prison chow line, not an extraordinary being at all.

For all the complaints about the injury to his dignity, the film comported with his true dignity.

Yet so many people perceived nothing but unjust humiliation...How to explain? I wonder if they were not responding to the humiliation that they themselves felt? That is, to their own unconscious exasperation, or unhappiness, that such an American success amounted to a setback for them, their status, their momentary place in the on-going arguments that have surrounded Iraq for over a year.

And so they fell into pecksniffery-- "Hypocritically affecting benevolence or high moral principles."

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