I only just learned of an article by Drew Christiansen, S.J., that appeared in America on May 19, A Campaign to Divide the Church in the Holy Land, where I am personally cited in a manner that does not conform to the truth. We read: Georges Cottier, O.P., the papal theologian, and other French churchmen supported the idea with vigorous attacks on Patriarch Michel Sabbah in the French Catholic press.
This phrase contains several inaccuracies. I am not a French churchman; I did not write in the French press; to criticize a position in an argumentative manner is not to attack the person who defends that position.
Father Christiansen bases his remarks on an article published in Proche Orient Info. This publication reprised, without asking our permission, large extracts of an editorial, Resistance et Moralité des Moyens (Résistance and the Morality of Means), published in the review Nova et Vetera, 2002/4 p. 5-14 (see also Terre Sainte, 2003, 1-2, p. 159-161), which is a Catholic review of French Switzerland, founded by Cardinal Charles Journet. Moreover, the reproduction is preceded by several lines of introduction that mislead the reader.
These are the facts:
1. The editorial of Nova et Vetera is signed by the editorial staff and not by me, though insofar as I am director of the review, I assume full responsibility for it.
2. Proche Orient Info, which attributes the editorial to me personally, prefaces it by several lines of commentary which suggest that it concerns an indirect intervention, via my person, of the Holy See toward Patriarch Sabbah. This interpretation is gratuitous; it is false.
I continued my directorship of the review upon coming to Rome. What I write and publish is not connected to my position as Theologian of the Pontifical Household. Our readers are under no illusion about this.
3. The editorial, which Father Christiansen should have read with greater attention, does not treat, either directly or indirectly, the question of ecclesiastical jurisdiction for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. It treats, by way of a critique of the positions taken by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, a question of the ethics of war.
4. The editorial recognizes the justice of the cause that Patriarch Sabbah defends. Based on a declaration made May 8, 2002, and on a book of interviews (Michel Sabbah, Paix sur Jerusalem, Propos d’un évêque Palestinien [Paris, 2002]), it criticizes his position on terrorism. The editorial is not a support for terrorism, but an excessive comprehension with regard to the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers. An interview in Newsweek of Dec. 23, 2002, summarizes well this position: Q: Do you see suicide bombers as true martyrs? Patriarch Sabbah: According to Islam, they are. It’s necessary to treat each one according to his own principles. As Muslims see it, suicide bombers are giving their lives for their country, to gain their liberty. As a Christian, suicide is not permissible in any case, even for your country. You may not kill yourself.
Nothing in these lines is said about terrorism as an action that deliberately brings about the death of innocents in order to destabilize the adversary. The response relativizes the condemnation of suicide, making it a cultural problem, when it is in fact an act contrary to the universal moral law.
5. It is this precise point that the editorial critiques. It does so through a carefully argued analysis of the notions in play: right to resistance, legitimate defense, reprisals, terrorism. It questions the morality of means: a just cause cannot justify recourse to intrinsically immoral means.
If it is true that the distressing situation into which the Palestinian people have been thrown creates fertile terrain for the phenomenon of suicide bombers, it cannot be considered as its necessary cause and its justification.
I ask you to publish this rectification, because the affirmations of Father Christiansen do not conform to the truth and constitute an offense to my person.
Georges Cottier, O.P.
Vatican City State
The writer is the Theologian of the Pontifical Household.