All aboard for a diverse ride tonight as I seek to cover much in salute of a dedicated Melbourne-based priest, Pallottine extraordinaire Walter Silvester, who did so much for so many.
At age 24 he commanded a
U-boat in the Bay of Biscay and who knows may have been attacked by
Captain Dudley Marrows of Mildura.
History records that on 30 July 1943
Dudley Marrows as pilot of a RAF Squadron 461 Sunderland bomber sank U
boat 461 in the Bay of Biscay. Both Father Silvester and Dudley Marrows
got into trouble for turning back to help in the rescue of their enemy.
salute their gestures and tonight am privileged to give the 2012 Walter
I thank you all for attending and let me begin with a brief report on
what is happening in Rome, not from my three year posting as first Rome
resident Australian Ambassador to the Holy See but from the couple of
days my wife Judy and I spent there last week.
Firstly six new cardinals were announced by the Pope last week and
not one of them was an Italian, this could be the start of a trend to
balance the Conclave, to better reflect the need to be an actual
Universal church and not, as some would have it, an Italian Universal
Secondly six Italian scientists were sent to gaol for six years,
having been found guilty last week of manslaughter for failing to issue
high level warnings about the L'Aquila deadly earthquake and its
likelihood. Over 300 were killed in this powerful earthquake. Let me say
this ruling has worldwide ramifications.
Thirdly my successor John McCarthy QC has received his date for
presentation of credentials to Pope Benedict XVI, namely in six days
time on the 5th of November, he has hit the ground running in Rome and I
wish him well.
Finally all six floors of Domus Australia near Termini (six if you
count the basement and rooftop) are glistening, it is a great place to
stay in Rome eg the shower cubicles are very large by Italian standards
as Cardinal Pell insisted on them being able to cater for large
Australians and the guest laundry actually works, likewise the six or
more guest computer screens work well! I happily commend it as a breath
of fresh air and very convenient place to stay.
Let me observe Rome is in many ways a great country town, I always
get a buzz from visiting and while Judy and I walked along near the
Farnese to the Pellegrini Church just over a week ago, we bumped into
semi-perpetual Rome student and friend Simon Grainger from the mighty
As I address the issue of does the Vatican matter in the 21st
Century, a good stepping off point is the recent huge win by Australia
in the United Nations ballot for a rotational seat on the UN Security
Council. Australia topped the ballot with 140 votes out of a possible
193 votes, an incredible result. In the second ballot Luxembourg beat
Finland 131 to 62.
Only two in the world predicted a fortnight or so before the ballot
in New York that Australia would win easily, notwithstanding static on
our Middle East voting track record at the UN.
The first was Greg
Sheridan in a bold article in the Australian and the second was the Holy
It was affirmed to me in a conversation in the Vatican Gardens on
Friday 19 October, at a huge reception hosted by the USA ahead of the
canonisation of two saints of North American background, by a European
DHOM, that the Holy See Secretariat of State had clearly predicted an
Australian win by a large margin. Luxembourg was the other winner,
winning a seat on the UNSC for the first time ever, for ‘Western Europe
and Others' zone.
Here is proof again that despite all the other troubles faced by the
Holy See this year, Vatileaks and the case against the Pope's Butler, a
tough visit to Lebanon by the Pope, financial turmoil with aspects of
the Vatican finances including the sacking of the head of the IOR or
Vatican Bank and the ongoing Clergy Sex Abuse saga worldwide, the Holy
See had called accurately the result of the UNSC ballot.
In essence my message is do not right the Vatican off now or ever, as
the oldest organisation in the world it has made its fair share of
mistakes over the last 500 years in particular but it has also delivered
much for the posterity of the world. In this regard let me give three
solid examples involving three recent Popes.
Pope Paul VI
Firstly Pope Paul VI in a trail blazing decision ordered the Holy See
to establish the first University on the West Bank in 1973, the
Bethlehem University operated by the De La Salle Brothers and currently
led by Anzac Brother Peter Bray.
Each day some 1000 Christian students
join some 2000 Muslim students for lectures at a great campus, about 500
metres down from the Great Wall that divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem
and about 800 metres above the Square of the Manger.
In the troubled Middle East the Bethlehem University is a shining
beacon of enlightenment, producing some very successful graduates over
the years, notwithstanding shelling directly by Israeli Defence forces
and even stoning of staff and student by Israeli settlers as they drove
along a West Bank road. These hardline Jewish settlers from settlements
that even the Israeli Courts regard as illegal think nothing of spraying
offensive graffiti on the walls of Mosques and attacking innocent law
abiding civilians as a tactical ploy.
Yes rockets are fired from the Gaza into Israel every day I was
visiting last November, yes suicide bombings by radical Palestinians
killing innocent Jewish citizens has resulted in the world's newest
ugliest wall, equally there is a brutality about the Israeli occupation
of the West Bank you rarely hear about. Israel has a dynamic economy and
a working democracy but an underside that is camouflaged a great deal.
Part of the presentational problem is that brilliant Melbourne
trained Mark Regev as an Israeli Governmental spokesman will always run
rings around Palestinian spokesmen, if the PLA had five Mark Regevs then
a more balanced picture might emerge. I respect Mark Regev, he makes
Tony Blair's Alistair Campbell look a novice but adjustments must be
made to see a more balanced story about the Middle East actually gets to
The vital overall point is that amongst all the agony of the Middle
East there is an oasis of educational endeavour, an uplifting icon of
practical inter religious co-operation and it is called Bethlehem
University. It exists because it was created by the Holy See and
receives financial and other support from the Holy See to this day.
It operates well enough on each day that the young Israeli soldiers
allow, remember they manage Control Point No 300 near the University and
students coming through that route from Ramallah or Hebron can pass in
four minutes or four hours on an attitudinal whim of the occupying area
controllers. May the good efforts of all involved with Bethlehem
University gather momentum in the deeply troubled Middle East.
Pope John Paul II
Secondly, let me turn to Pope John Paul II, he cast such a huge
footprint that you would be forgiven for thinking he had Army divisions
aplenty. The shadow of the huge footprint of John Paul II continues to
hang over Rome to this day.
The election of John Paul II had been foretold in that magnificent
book by Morris West ‘The Shoes of the Fisherman'. He wrote that the next
Pope would be a Slav Pope and apart from the too brief interlude with
Pope John Paul I (a Papacy of just 33 days), the next Pope was indeed a
Slav, one hell of a Slav!
From years behind the Iron Curtain and behind the Berlin Wall,
Cardinal Wojtyla closely observed the workings of communism. He observed
the balance of power not only east v west but also Poland v Russia.
Further he had travelled prodigiously as a Cardinal, even to tiny far
flung countries like Papua New Guinea.
Over the decades his sharp inquiring mind took in a great deal before
he became Pope. He not only saw the Berlin Wall go up from the wrong
side in a sense but he also met many wise Papal Nuncios in his travels.
This Cardinal on the move also met a few political leaders at or around
the margins of the various Conferences he attended.
In looking at the long public life of the citizen of Poland who
became Pope, it is reasonable to state that he was no shrinking violet
and he played the cards available to him with maximum leverage. After
1978 he accepted that part of his designated role relating to Supreme
Sovereign and Pontiff, was not to step back from the international
stage. He wanted to give real help to good causes.
The first big cause was the startling deterioration of relations
between Argentina and Chile in the early 1980s, a dispute that had at
its core the fixing of the international boundary between these two
giant countries dominating a large part of Latin America.
In a nutshell the problem relates to the main spine of the Andes and
the fact that in certain parts the water shed delivers water to the
opposite side, in other words the highest point along the spine of the
Andes is not the point dividing the flow of water to the lowlands of
Argentina and Chile, dividing the flows to the Atlantic or Pacific.
Underlying the dispute was the desire to maximize the gains to be
obtained from the huge potential of oil and gas deposits. So the
Generals running Argentina at the time muscled up on Chile and prepared
plans to bomb Chile's national capital, Santiago as a kind of opening
salvo for one sided negotiations.
Both Argentina and Chile are largely Catholic countries, over the
centuries this has never stopped European countries of Catholic
composition from going to war. The prospect of conflict was ringing
alarm bells all the way through to both Washington and Rome.
Cardinal Siri was especially active on the issue, the local Papal
Nuncios were keeping him up to speed. Enter the Pope John Paul II, who
had just a few years on the Papal Throne but deeply concerned about
another unnecessary war killing thousands of civilians. The Pope had
bounced back from the assassination attempt in St Peter's Square in 1981
and possibly had a sharpened attitude to life and death and seizing
each and every moment of every day.
The Pope offered to mediate, to set up a Papal Commission to examine
the border in detail and commend alterations in order to provide a fair
set of outcomes. In fact there were more than 900 alterations
recommended and these were wrapped into a Treaty that delineates clear
cut boundaries for almost all of the length from Ecuador in the north to
Cape Horn in the south.
Both countries accepted the outcome and modern maps reflect the Papal
intervention, especially near the critical Beagle Canal and Magellan
Straits. It was a sensible outcome and one Pope John Paul II could be
proud of, but he did not have much time to pause and dwell on it as
other crises loomed into view.
In the Pontifical Academy of Science building in the Vatican Gardens,
a plaque was unveiled on the 25th Anniversary of this Treaty, with the
Presidents of both Argentina and Chile coming to Rome to see the Pope on
I assume the location of the plaque in this spectacular
building was because of the fact that ultimately the business of
cartology is after all a science and not because the Chancellor and
Pope's Chief Scientist is the brilliant and wise Bishop Marcelo Sanchez
Sorondo (throughout the entirety of my posting).
Either way, the ground-breaking and border-defining treaty was a huge
achievement that made Latin America a more stable and by degrees
peaceful place. The standing of Pope John Paul II helped bed down the
border clarifications and alterations. This standing was further
enhanced by the very success of this treaty.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the US Presidency and like most US
Presidents post World War Two, he was keen to forge links with the Pope
of the day and in particular the Slav Pope from behind the Iron Curtain.
He arranged to meet with him during his first term. Papal and White
House links were not strong in the early years of the USA but they
gradually built up.
Reagan was of the view that the evil empire of the Soviet Union was
right for challenge and close to the point of being unsustainable as a
united power block. Furthermore he possessed the will to challenge the
Soviet block and had the spine to follow through over his two term
Presidency from inauguration in early 1981 to early 1989.
At the time, Europe was going through a basket case phase. There were
huge industrial troubles, bouts of damaging inflation and too much
unemployment. Drugs and booze were to the fore, especially with the
In Reagan and to some extent Margaret Thatcher there were Head of
Government leaders who had spine and meant business. This was soon to be
demonstrated in spades with both the Falklands War and the saga of KAL
007, a civilian jumbo shot down by a Russian fighter, the evil empire at
On the first of September 1983 the Cold War reached a critical point.
The day was to become a turning point in history and a day like no
other in the world's history. A Korean Airlines civilian passenger jumbo
jet was peacefully making its way across the Atlantic from the United
States to South Korea. It refuelled in Anchorage, Alaska but shortly
after leaving Anchorage the flight drifted north of its regular approved
Initially the drift was almost imperceptible but further into the
flight it resulted in KAL 007 being so far off course as to cross
restricted Russian airspace, including the Sakhalin peninsula. This Far
East part of the Soviet Union was crammed with sensitive military assets
of a top secret kind, remembering that as late as 1983, the Kremlin was
still in fierce competition and a degree of conflict with the west.
Suddenly the Jumbo was intercepted by Russian fighter aircraft, the
lead pilot reported the sighting but not the fact that it was a Boeing
747 wide bodied aircraft. After some initial confusion between two
senior Russian officers the order was given to shoot down KAL 007 and
after initially overshooting the target two heat seeking missiles found
their mark and KAL 007 crashed into the icy sea with no survivors.
Over two hundred passengers and crew were killed on impact including a
United States congressmen and some extra crew repositioning back to
base in Seoul. Within hours Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz
released intercept transcripts between the Russian fighter pilot and his
base, yet the Kremlin denied for hours any shooting down whatsoever.
Within days President Reagan released further transcripts relating to
the tragedy. The world soon came to accept that the Soviet Union had
shot down a civilian airliner which had strayed off course but otherwise
was continuing along the broad pathway to South Korea.
The world was
horrified with this action of the ‘evil empire' and from this point
onwards it was all downhill for the Soviet Union.
The world also realized that the penetration capability y of the CIA
and other intelligence units such as Mossad had greatly expanded with
the massive use of computers and Pine Gap type satellite interception.
Pine Gap is located near Alice Springs in central Australia, it is a
joint intelligence gathering facility between Australia and the USA.
It is now a matter of public record that during the Gulf War One,
Pine Gap could quickly detect the necessary weather balloon launched
minutes before a scud missile launch by Saddam's forces. The balloon
sent wind details back to the Scud missile launch pad and so Canberra,
Washington but also Bahrain and Tel Aviv were warning of each Scud
What stunned many, including the intelligence units of smaller
countries, was the capacity of the USA to produce within hours, the
exact intercept transcripts approving and ordering the destruction of
KAL 007. The use of buzz word detectors driven by huge computer search
engines was now out and about.
Through this period President Reagan found in Pope John Paul II a
fellow traveller, who was deeply opposed to Communism and in the case of
the Pope, a person who sensed that the first hints of fundamental
change were beginning to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain.
Already the Solidarity movement had sprung up in the northern parts
of Poland, led by Lech Walesa from Gdansk. The Pope provided both
spiritual comfort and financial support for the rapidly growing
solidarity movement. It is accepted today that Pope John Paul II
provided around $100 million through various channels, greatly helping
solidarity through its darkest days of formation.
Gradually Solidarity, with the total support of the Polish Pope,
gained sufficient momentum and real traction to manoeuvre Poland towards
free elections in 1989 and upend the four and a half decades of
communist rule. At the time the Kremlin in Moscow had its hands full, as
the Soviet Union was also starting to go through change and starting to
show signs of breaking into a series of separate countries which
existed prior to Lenin and Stalin coming on the scene.
The unwavering support of the Pope and the Holy See was critical to
insuring Poland broke out of the Soviet block and in turn this brought
massive pressure to bear on East Germany.
As the northern Autumn or Fall of 1989 gathered momentum, the Berlin
Wall itself came under direct pressure. The remnant East German
Government blinked and gave the orders not to shoot at those seeking to
jump over the Wall. Within hours the Wall started to come down as the
‘standstill and do not shoot' orders were absorbed and obeyed by the
East German police.
At the same time the Kremlin blinked and did not or could not
intervene. Within hours the famous scenes were beamed around the world
seeing West Germans embrace East Germans as they climbed over the wall
during the night, and as they came through holes, which quickly opened
up in the wall, as they made history in a direct way.
At the twentieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down the US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke and gave particular credit to
the work of Pope John Paul II with regard to the fall of Communism in
Poland. She highlighted that this vital work became a critical factor in
bringing pressure to bear on the East German communist Government. In
turn this created the conditions for the collapse of the wall and the
overthrow of the communist regime.
Within weeks all communist regimes between Poland and Bulgaria had
collapsed with the Romanian dictator and his wife being executed on
Christmas day 1989.
There is no doubt as Hillary Clinton and many others have stated,
Pope John Paul II gave the embryonic Solidarity movement critical
support which made a huge difference. When in the 21st century you see
communism survive in various guises, such as with China and Cuba, it
engenders the reflection that the fall of communism was never going to
be automatic or a lay down misère.
The Pope had been a white knight, a decisive white knight who played
out a block busting role with regard to Europe and as mentioned earlier
with regard to Latin America.
No wonder one million people turned up in Rome on the first of May
2011 for the Beatification of the first Slav Pope, the deep thinking
anti-communist who came along at the right time to make a real
difference in the history of the world. It was one of those very special
days which was a great privilege to attend as accredited Ambassador to
the Holy See and further it was attended by people of many faiths.
Over the centuries, the Holy See as the oldest organization in the
world has seen national capital cities come and go (EG Almaty and
Melbourne) and has seen countries and nation states come and go (EG
Czechoslovakia and Prussia). It is unlikely to be the decisive and
direct lead player, but it is often in part instrumental in these
monumental events of the late twentieth century.
With the collapse of
communism in Europe and across the Soviet Union and the fall of the
Berlin Wall, it can be said the Holy See and the capital, the Vatican
City, did matter and continues to matter.
Pope Benedict XVI
The first few years of the Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI were more
stable times, until the Global Financial Crisis unfolded in 2008 and the
Arab spring around the Mediterranean in 2010.
Preceding this, in the summer of 2006, there was a particularly ugly
war in the Middle East between Israel and Lebanon or elements within
Lebanon. This saw Israeli aircraft precision bombing parts of Beirut
International Airport, occupying many parts of southern Lebanon and
engaging in fierce tank warfare with the Hezbollah.
Rapidly Israel bogged down and casualties were mounting on both
sides, worst still the soldier that Israel was seeking to free at the
start of the war was nowhere to be found or rescued. He was released in a
prisoner exchange eventually, in 2011.
The White House and others stepped up to negotiate a cease fire and
it was agreed this would come into effect on the 14th August 2006.
Against the odds the cease fire did apply and held so bringing an end to
immediate hostilities, with the Israeli forces withdrawing from north
of the well fenced and recognized Israel Lebanon border.
However in the last 48 hours before the ‘cut in' of the ceasefire but
after it had been agreed, a very nasty saga took place, conducted by
elements of the USA and Israel military machines, notably the Israeli
Thousands of cluster bomb munitions were flown from arsenals
in the USA to Israel and quickly transhipped and sprayed out across
Southern Lebanon in bombing raids. Many of these small cluster bombs
looked like smart mobile phones, leading to Lebanese children picking
them up and losing an arm or eye in the explosion that followed.
bastardry in a place full of bastardry, namely the Middle East. Israel
will always try to rescue its own soldiers and defend villages from
attack, including rocket attacks launched without warning by the
Hezbollah and Hamas.
Israel has a right to defend itself but at times in the 21st Century
has decided to add to the bastardry of the Middle East in crazy ways
that weakens both its international standing and for that matter, its
core fabric. Likewise just as Fatah Prime Minister Fayyad makes some
progress with education on the West Bank, other Palestinian elements
ramp up random rocket attacks.
Pope Benedict XVI has often spoken of his deep-seated concern for the
Christian populace in the Middle East and especially the Holy Lands. In
the aftermath of the summer war of 2006 across most of southern
Lebanon, the Pope supported initiatives flowing from three key posts of
the Holy See. They were the Papal Nunciatures located in Vienna, New
York and the hub of Geneva.
In May 2008 in Dublin there was a gathering of nations to consider
the adoption of the convention with a large Holy See delegation present,
led by Archbishop S.M.Tomasi. He is now based in Geneva after stints in
New York and places like Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Paolo Conversi a senior
Curia lay person was also part of the delegation. He is a shrewd policy
officer working in the Secretary of State office in this policy area, he
supplied strategic research.
In the end 107 States or nations supported the adoption in principle
of the Cluster Bombs Convention at Dublin with each State in turn to
consider its own support and ratification. Further plenary meetings took
place in the relevant locations of Vientiane Laos in 2010 and in Beirut
Lebanon in 2011.
Over recent years, the convention has gained a great
deal of momentum with over 70 countries signing and ratifying, all of
this driven by many including the three key Nunciatures mentioned
earlier. Today many countries continue to sign up, including Australia
but not yet the USA or Russia
Success always has a thousand or more claiming credit for the
iniative. Failure has few accepting responsibility so it is difficult to
lay down exactly who was the catalyst for what emerged after the dirty
war of 2006 and the use of Cluster bombs, supplied by the USA and
delivered by Israel.
Most in the know allow that the Holy See played a
critical and decisive role in securing the Cluster Bombs Convention, in
other words the Pope and his servants did matter.
There are many more examples I could give but I just want to lighten
up and tell you that it was a great privilege to be in Rome for the
canonisation of Mary MacKillop.
St Peter's Square was packed, the sun
was shining and for the official functions, the Coonawarra wines of
excellence were flowing. Remember Mary MacKillop opened her first school
at Penola in 1866, alongside the rich soils of the Coonawarra.
invited the Coonawarra Wineries to donate towards the Canonisation
functions in one of my better moves and they donated much to the cause.
Their wines were very popular in and around Rome and of course in
I conclude by saying do not write off the soft power of Popes anytime
soon, there are two Treaties of significance they helped create
(Argentina Chile Border Treaty and the Anti Cluster Munitions Convention
and Treaty) and much more.
Do not write off the Holy See, yes it could
do with six Mark Regev types to assist Father Lombardi SJ to boost media
coverage, extra language speakers fluent in German, French, Spanish,
Portuguese as well as Italian and English, yes the Holy See makes
mistakes but it is not going to vanish anytime soon.
Tim Fischer AC, Former Australian Ambassador to the Holy See and
ex Deputy PM of Australia, gave the above address, the sixth annual
Walter Silvester Memorial Lecture, jointly sponsored by the Union of
Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Family) and Australian Catholic
University, on 30 October 2012 at ACU's St Patrick's Campus in Melbourne.