Image: CARDINAL MARTINO
Tano Pecoraro  /  AP file
Cardinal Renato Martino, in an undated file photo.
updated 12/19/2003 9:57:42 AM ET 2003-12-19T14:57:42

A cardinal who rebuked the United States for treating Saddam Hussein “like a cow” after his capture was expressing his personal opinion and not necessarily the view of Pope John Paul II, a senior Vatican official said Friday.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, had spoken out at a news conference Tuesday called to introduce the pope’s annual message for the Church’s World Day of Peace on Jan. 1.

Martino said Saddam should face trial for his crimes but that the world should have been spared the images of his medical examination after his capture.

“I feel pity at seeing this destroyed man, treated like a cow having his teeth checked,” Martino said, responding to a question on the Vatican’s reaction to the capture.

Martino, the Vatican’s former representative to the United Nations in New York, also said it “seems illusory to hope that it (Saddam’s arrest) will repair the drama and damage of the defeat against humanity which war always is.”

The pope was a staunch opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and criticized the decision to go ahead without U.N. authorization.

His message this week did not mention the United States by name, but called for a renewed respect for international law and addressed the dangers of terrorism and the need for reform of international law to combat it.

“The thinking of the Holy Father for the World Day of Peace is fully contained in his message,” said the senior official, speaking on grounds of anonymity. “Cardinal Martino added his own personal point of view.”

Martino’s secretary said the cardinal had no intention of replying.

The Vatican and the Bush administration have sought to stress that their relationship was not damaged by their differences about going to war.

Several top cardinals have warned against a pullout of U.S. and allied troops from Iraq. Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit magazine close to the Vatican, said recently that “Iraqis cannot be abandoned to their own fate;” it asked that the United Nations play a greater role in reconstruction efforts.

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