VATICAN CITY - Fearing a genocide of Christians, the Vatican has given its approval to US military air strikes in Iraq - a rare exception to its policy of peaceful conflict resolution.
The Holy See's ambassador to the United Nations, Silvano Tomasi, this weekend supported US air strikes aimed at halting the advance of Sunni Islamic State (IS) militants, calling for "intervention now, before it is too late".
"Military action might be necessary," he said.
While the Vatican vocally disapproved of the US-led campaign in Iraq in 2003 and the 2013 plan for air strikes on Syria - fearing both might make the situations worse for Christians on the ground - fears of ethnic cleansing by Islamists has forced a policy change.
Tomasi's appeal follows warnings from Church leaders in Iraq that the persecution is becoming a genocide, with urgent help needed to protect Christians and Yezidis in the north of the country, where tens of thousands have been forced to flee for their lives.
Military support was needed "to stop the wolf getting to the flock to kill, eat, destroy", Rabban al-Qas, the Chaldean bishop of Amadiyah, told Vatican radio.
Tomasi insisted "those supplying arms and funds to the fundamentalists, (and) the countries tacitly supporting them, must be revealed", while Qas pointed the finger at Saudi Arabia.
Others, like the Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Sako, called for wider intervention, saying the US strikes offer little hope the jihadists would be defeated.
"The position of the American President Obama only to give military assistance to protect Arbil is disappointing," said Sako, who has been trying to persuade his flock to resist attempts to drive them out of Iraq, and turn down offers of humanitarian visas to Europe.