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Must democracy rest on faith?

In his latest book, Pope John Paul II criticizes Western democracies for abandoning God's laws.

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The pope has since supported the election as a good development for Iraq.

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The editorial claimed that by invading Iraq, the United States "[has] lent support to the impression that the West [...] intends a new colonization of Islamic countries, aimed at taking control of their oil, on the pretext of wanting to bring 'democracy,' [...] without realizing that, at least for Islamic fundamentalism, 'democracy' takes the sovereignty away from Allah and transfers it to the 'people,' which for a Muslim believer is an act of 'impiety.' "

"It seems the Vatican is concerned about the kind of freedom the Middle East may soon discover," says Roberto Menotti, a political scientist at Rome's Aspen institute.

Coming just weeks after President Bush's inaugural address, which set forth his manifesto on human freedom, the pope's remarks are stirring debate about what, exactly, freedom and democracy should entail.

"The main question the pope is raising," says Introvigne, "is whether humans should be free to make laws as they please or is there a law of God that nobody can breach?"

For the pope, the evolution of some Central and Eastern European countries who have embraced capitalism without restraint, is cause for concern.

"We are now at a peak of the domination of so-called freedom values," said Ingo Friedrich, who is vice-president of the European parliament, where he represents the People's Party.

"When you have very high levels of wealth, the danger of freedom overload is always higher," he says. "If the donkey gets too fat, he falls through the ice," he says, quoting a German proverb. "We are definitely at a time when people are wondering how far this freedom thing will go."

"What the pope is really saying is that democracy is good for people only if it does what the Catholic Church says," said Franco Pavoncello, political analyst at Rome's John Cabot University. "But the whole point of democracy is that there is no blueprint. People get to choose how they want things to be done."

"In Rome, no one's listening to the pope's warning," wrote the newspaper La Repubblica, after mulling over the pope's words for a week. Recognizing the pope's arguments over human rights on question such as abortion and gay adoption, La Repubblica's Andrea Manzella argued that Italy's and Europe's Constitution both have careful procedures for laws to be challenged if they seem to infringe human rights.

"After the end of the ideologies of the 20th century and especially after the fall of Communism, various nations have pinned their hopes on democracy," the pope writes. "Which is why it is so important now for us to ask ourselves what democracy ought to be."

"Laws made by men, by parliaments," he added, "must not be in contradiction with natural laws, that is with the eternal law of God."