I’m just trying to picture Hitchens’s face when he inevitably sees this.

Perhaps I’ll e-mail him the link myself.

Iran, which has had diplomatic relations with the Holy See for 53 years, may be trying to line up Benedict as an ace in the hole for staving off a potential attack in the coming months. “The Vatican seems to be part of their strategy,” a senior Western diplomat in Rome said of the Iranian leadership. “They’ll have an idea of when the 11th hour is coming. And they know an intervention of the Vatican is the most open and amenable route to Western public opinion. It could buy them time.”

If the situation heats up in the coming months, the question of exactly what role the Vatican would play could become pivotal. Says one high-ranking Vatican official: “The Iranians look to the Holy See with particular attention. It is born from our common religious matrix. This could be utilized to offer ourselves as an intermediary if the crisis worsens.” Among the potential moves: a forceful series of public appeals by the Pope, a Vatican emissary sent to Washington and Tehran, or a visit to the Vatican by Iranian President President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad…

[O]ver recent months, the conversations have centered on the looming showdown over Iran’s nuclear program. Says one key Catholic Church player involved in these discussions: “The Pope will speak explicitly only when the conditions call for it. One difference this time [compared with Iraq] is that we’re hoping the American bishops could speak out [against any attack plans]. That would be of great help.”…

Though Vatican officials say they are concerned about Iran’s development of nuclear arms, the pontiff is both doctrinally bound and personally inclined to pursue a negotiated settlement at almost any cost. In 2003, then serving as a senior Vatican Cardinal, the current Pope was firmly behind John Paul II’s opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Indeed, many in Rome cite parallels between the current push from American hardliners to confront Iran and the walkup to the war in Iraq. “The Holy See hasn’t forgotten what happened in Iraq,” says one Vatican insider. “Seeing how that situation has developed, there is great, great prudence on the part of the Holy See. The judgment shown on Iraq weighs on the Iran situation.”

in case the Pope’s best efforts fail and God declines to intervene, Iran will turn to other options. In the meantime, follow the link up top and scroll down to the end for an interesting comparison of Catholicism to Shia Islam. Exit question per last week’s post: Which doctrine compels the Pope to seek a negotiated settlement at all costs? I’m pretty sure I know, but I’m also pretty sure our hawkish Protestant readers will have a more … nuanced reading of that particular passage.

Update (Bryan): Mahmoud is about five centuries and a Reformation behind, if he thinks this strategy has a prayer of succeeding. For starters, Bush is a Methodist, so the Pope isn’t even in his spiritual chain of suggestion.

Tags: Islam religion