ROME, Jan. 10 -- Pope John Paul II, who opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the Bush administration's policy of preventive war, criticized on Monday the "arrogance of power," which he said should be countered with reason and dialogue.
The pope made his remarks in a televised speech to an annual gathering of diplomats accredited to Vatican City and other dignitaries.
Meanwhile, a retired cardinal and former envoy said President Bush had assured him on the eve of the Iraq invasion that the war would be short.
Cardinal Pio Laghi, speaking during the broadcast on the Vatican's official Telepace service, described a conversation with Bush on March 5, 2003: "When I went to Washington as the pope's envoy just before the outbreak of the war, he told me, 'Don't worry, your eminence. We'll be quick and do well in Iraq.'
"Unfortunately, the facts have demonstrated afterward that things took a different course -- not rapid and not favorable. Bush was wrong," Laghi said.
Laghi's comments reflected the pope's often-stated view, which he reiterated Monday. "Recourse to arms and violence has not only led to incalculable material damage, but also fomented hatred and increased the causes of tension," the pope said. "The arrogance of power must be countered with reason, force with dialogue, pointed weapons with outstretched hands, evil with good."
The quest for peace was one of four challenges the 84-year-old leader of the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics said faced the world this year.
He listed first his opposition to abortion, artificially assisted procreation, human embryonic stem cell research and cloning, calling anything that "violates the integrity and dignity of the embryo . . . ethically inadmissible." He also spoke out indirectly against gay marriage, saying that the family was threatened by laws that "challenge its natural structure" as a union of a man and a woman.
The pope also called for a "vast moral mobilization of public opinion" to fight hunger and urged political leaders in wealthy countries to be particularly responsive. In addition to his plea for peace, he spoke out for individual freedom and put religious liberty "at the very heart" of it.
"It is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee," he said.
The speech began with a lament for the "enormous catastrophe" of the Asian tsunami during the Christmas season.
The pope read only the first and last paragraphs of the French-language text, handing the rest to an aide to deliver. But he individually greeted the 170 ambassadors to the Holy See, as well as special representatives from Russia, the European Union, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Knights of Malta, taking time to chat with some of them.