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As the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen reveals in this article on the Vatican’s response to the never-ending atrocities in Syria, it’s not just the “family values” politicians who manipulatively exploit the warm sentiments that many associate with family life. It’s Roman Catholic prelates too.

But before getting to Allen’s must-read article and the too-close-for-comfort relations between the Vatican and the Assad regime, here is this opening paragraph in a New York Times report today about that regime’s so-called local “ceasefire” initiatives, which vividly describes Bashar al-Assad’s truly demonic use of food to attack his own people, be they rebel fighters or innocent civilians:

To the starving residents and rebel fighters in the bitterly contested suburbs of Damascus, the offer from the Syrian government can be tempting enough to overcome their deep mistrust: a cease-fire accompanied by the delivery of food supplies, if they agree to give up their heavy weapons and let state-run news media show the government’s flag flying over their town.

But as The Times reporter Anne Barnard chronicles in the same article, the offer of food is merely a ruse used by the Assad regime to get locals to hand over rebels:

The government rains aerial attacks on areas that refuse cease-fire offers. People in places that accept can find themselves facing new demands: to turn over wanted men, give up their light weapons and accept a military governor. Food is delivered piecemeal to retain the government’s leverage.

The government has repeatedly given permission for aid convoys to enter, then blocked them, as people continue to suffer and even die from a lack of food and medical care.

International aid workers, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect aid projects, say that the government has shown little commitment to the politically neutral delivery of aid. Many contend that the government uses the truces more as a tool of surrender starving people and luring them into one-sided deals than as building blocks of compromise.

Now enter Pope Francis and the Vatican’s handling of the Syrian atrocities.

As NCR’s John Allen reports, in late December Assad regime officials personally delivered – at the Vatican to a cardinal – a letter to Pope Francis from Assad himself. In the wake of that letter, what emerged was a Jan. 13 Vatican-sponsored “peace” conference, along with a bold Vatican plan to enlist Italy’s favorite soccer team to, for all intents and purposes, portray Assad as a beleagured statesman desperately trying to pursue peace.

Here’s a helpful nugget from John Allen’s report on why Pope Francis and the Vatican are playing footsy with Assad:

In the run-up to the Jan. 13 Vatican conference, some Western diplomats quietly expressed concern that the Vatican seemed to be positioning itself closer to Russia’s position on the Syrian conflict rather than that of the United States and the other Western powers, driven in part by perceptions that Syria’s Christian leadership sees Assad as a firebreak between them and rising Islamic militancy.

To inject a high dose of Orwellianism into the Vatican-Assad regime game of realpolitik, Vatican officials have enlisted the Italian soccer league to butter up Assad’s image. As John Allen reports:

This week the [Vatican] council announced that it’s enlisted the support of Italy’s Serie A, the country’s premier soccer league, in trying to raise consciousness. This weekend, banners will be displayed at midfield in the ten stadiums that are hosting home matches, including Rome’s Olympic Stadium, reading “Winds of Peace for the Families of Syria.”

And here’s where it gets even more creepy:

Jumbo screens in the stadiums will also play a spot with a well-known Italian TV conductor providing voice-over for images of Syrian refugees in camps in Lebanon.

“The world of sport is not forgetting the painful situation” in Syria, a statement from the Pontifical Council for the Family said. “The game of peace can be won together, with everyone’s commitment.”

So, here you have the Vatican, using images of the suffering Syrian war refugees, all as part of a larger political endgame to butress the international standing, negotiating stature, and reputation of a rank war criminal, Bashar al-Assad, who has employed sarin gas and starvation to secure his iron rule.

Lord, save us.

This kind of ruthless, disgusting Orwellianism coming from Pope Francis and the Vatican does nothing to shake my Catholic faith. As a wise priest once said, “The Church is the container for the faith, but not the faith itself.” But this kind of human wickedness and realpolitik most definitely reinvigorates my total support for autonomous statehood for the Jewish people.

To anyone who would use disagreement with any particular policies of the Israeli government to subvert the moral legitmacy of the Jewish state, or try to scandalize the moral committment to that state from the Jewish diaspora, in America or elsewhere, I would say this: get a brain.

But more importantly, get a heart.

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