Vatican Could Plead Mercy for Aziz, Says Aide

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2007 ( If the Holy See intervenes to ask that a close collaborator of Saddam Hussein’s be spared the death penalty, it wouldn’t be without precedent, said a Vatican aide.

Tariq Aziz, 70, Iraq’s former deputy prime minister, and a Chaldean Catholic, has asked Benedict XVI through a handwritten letter to act on his behalf requesting asylum in Italy while he awaits trial in Iraq.

The letter was delivered in January by Giovanni Di Stefano, Aziz’s Italian lawyer, to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state.

Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, told ZENIT that no decision has been made public regarding the note, but did say that the Holy See can, in principle, “ask to save people’s lives in the case of capital punishment, and it frequently does do this.”

Monsignor Formenti added that the case was complicated by the fact that Aziz collaborated with Saddam. Aziz is accused of ordering the executions of Shiite Muslims who rebelled in 1991.

Monsignor Formenti added that “the Holy See can always ask for mercy.”

Aziz has appealed to the Vatican on two other known occasions since his arrest by U.S. coalition forces.