Pope calls for amnesty after conflict


Vatican sources yesterday suggested that Pope John Paul II's call for the granting of amnesties after armed conflict is of only "indirect" reference to Ireland.

The Pope made the call in a message issued yesterday to mark the church's forthcoming World Peace Day on January 1st.

In a section of the 18-page document dealing with the need to establish the truth about what had happened in a conflict as a basis for restoring peace, the Pope writes: "The evil which has been done must he acknowledged and as far as possible corrected.

"Not uncommon are cases of countries whose leaders, looking to the fundamental good of consolidating peace, have agreed to grant an amnesty to those who have publicly admitted crimes committed during a period of turmoil.

"Such an initiative can be regarded favourably as an effort to promote good relations between groups previously opposed to one another.

Although the Pope's message has a universal significance and does not focus on any single situation, it contains obvious references to conflict-ridden areas such as former Yugoslavia, the Great Lakes region of Africa, South Africa and the Middle East.

Vatican sources last night conceded, however, that some of those same references could apply to Northern Ireland: "The church could approve amnesties, or a social pardon, in Northern Ireland only if all sides acknowledged their wrongdoing ... and only if there was no attempt to hide the truth...", said a member of the Curia.

"The Pope could only approve a pardon that had an effect on the whole community, on the common good."

The Vatican's use of the word "amnesty" does not necessarily mean the waiving of legal responsibility in every post-conflict situation.

In a statement earlier this year about the involvement of Catholic clergy in tribal killings in Rwanda two years ago, the Pope not only condemned such behaviour as sinful, but also called for all those involved in violent crimes to be made answer for them in a court of law.

Vatican sources did, however, point out that the section of the document dealing with the need to re-read history was certainly highly relevant to Ireland. In an early part of the document, the Pope calls for a re-reading of history that will help heal bitter memories, while at the same time help understand the different interpretations of important historical events.