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By Bill Gallagher

"The concept of preventive war does not appear in 'The Catechism of the Catholic Church.'" -- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, September 2002. He was elected pope April 19, 2005.

DETROIT -- Pope Benedict XVI condemns pre-emptive war and celebrates erotic love. Soon to mark the first anniversary of his papacy, the Bavarian theologian is surprising his critics and disappointing his reactionary supporters. His message of peace and non-violence should be unsettling to those Christians -- especially American Catholic politicians -- who embrace war as a preferred choice in foreign policy and social engineering.

The world view of the neocons and Busheviks runs counter to the pope's view that the invasion of Iraq "has no moral justification." As a cardinal, Benedict was prescient about President George W. Bush's madness in sending an army into the heart of Islam to impose democracy at the end of a gun. "The damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save," he concluded.

Last Friday, a bomb exploded in the main mosque of the most influential Shiite political party in Iraq. Seventy-one people died and at least 140 were wounded. Bush has only unleashed chaos and bloodshed, and the situation may get even worse.

Ignore the administration's proclamations that "good news" is sprouting up all over Iraq. Our own ambassador in Baghdad warns that the religious warfare could spill over into the entire region unless something is done in a hurry to stop it.

Zalmay Khalilzad told the BBC he fears "a sectarian war in Iraq" could draw in neighboring countries, "affecting the entire region." As political turmoil and tit-for-tat murders continue in Bush's mad experiment in nation-building, Khalilzad worries that the conflict will spread. "That's a possibility if we don't do everything we can to make this country work," he said.

The scope of the disaster in Iraq is breathtaking. "What's happening here has huge implications for the region and the world," Khalilzad grimly noted.

Benedict joined with Christian and Muslim leaders in Iraq in two days of prayer and fasting for peace last week. He referred to Iraq as "that martyred country" and described the nation as "tormented." Bush and members of his essential base -- the religious right -- still insist God wanted this war. Trust them. They "prayed over it" before dropping the bombs.

The pope's view of the war is in stark contrast to Bushevik preachers like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson who celebrate the war and continue to support the aggression. Death in the desert is rapture for them.

Bush's hallelujah chorus wouldn't dare question anything in this war. Dobson said the United States had a "moral obligation" to invade Iraq as a "liberator." Falwell once said, "The war is going well, if you watch it on Fox." Robertson blessed the war, declaring, "We're on solid ground, not only in terms of Christian, biblical concepts, but also in terms of public relations." Far too many Catholics look to the religious right for guidance on the morality of this war, rather than to the leader of their own church.

Many, myself included, expected Benedict to be a hamhanded authoritarian enforcing strict orthodoxy, living up to his unflattering nickname, "God's Rottweiler." To my surprise and delight, he has shown a pastoral gentleness and warmth that was rarely seen in the almost quarter-century he headed the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Benedict dramatically set the tone for his pontificate in his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," or "God is Love." It is a warm reflection and meditation on the power of love. In it, Benedict explored the relationship between the erotic love between man and women, what the Greeks called "eros," and the self-giving, unconditional love called "agape."

In a somewhat unusual admission from a celibate cleric, Benedict recognized that the two concepts of love are best unified and perfected in marriage. He also acknowledged that, in the past, Christianity has been rightfully criticized "as having been opposed to the body."

The pope also noted the dehumanizing consequences of debasing bodily love. "Eros, reduced to pure 'sex' has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself has become a commodity."

Benedict wrote that helping the poor and weak is as much a part of the mission of the church as celebrating the sacraments and spreading the gospel. Works of charity are done for their intrinsic worth, Benedict offered, not to proselytize. "Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends," he wrote.

He also stood apart from the in-your-face Christians who look to covert everyone, not just non-Christians, but Christians of other denominations. Whether Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, fundamentalist Presbyterians, Catholics -- you name them -- I find those who proclaim Christ as their personal savior and then huckster their brand of Christianity to other Christians flat-out offensive.

The pope has it right. "Those who practice charity in the church's name will never seek to impose the church's faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love."

As a youth, Benedict saw firsthand the brutality of war and the dehumanizing Nazi regime. He told thousands of young people gathered in St. Peter's Square last week how that experience convinced him he should be a priest.

"I understood that in confronting the brutality of this system, this inhumane face, that there is a need of priests in this anti-human culture," he said. In his memoir, "Milestones," Benedict recalled deserting the German army he was forced to join. Some SS troops spotted and stopped him. He could have been shot on the spot. Instead, they let the 17-year-old go. Benedict wrote the soldiers who grabbed him "had enough of war and did not want to become murderers."

The pope has had enough of the war and murderers in Iraq.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com April 11 2006