e-mail us
Gumbleton: Scrap ‘just war’ for nonviolence

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton made an impassioned plea to his brother bishops to change the thrust of their pastoral on terrorism from one that allows military retaliation for the events of Sept. 11 to one that calls forth a nonviolent response.

He urged the bishops to abandon their traditional approach to assessing war: “Take that ‘just war’ theology. Put it in a drawer. Lock it. Never open it again.” He recommended that the bishops replace just war theology with the nonviolence practiced by their faith forebears in the first four centuries of Christendom.

The Detroit auxiliary pointed to the bishops’ own advice in the pastoral -- to Israelis, Palestinians and to Sudanese warring forces -- to stop the violence and return to a negotiated settlement of their conflicts.

He read a letter he received last week from Colleen Kelly of the Bronx whose brother, William Hill Kelly Jr. was killed in the trade towers. She did not wish any family, American or Afghan, to endure what her family was feeling.

“I adamantly oppose the bombings,” she wrote. “I have no other argument other than it is not ‘Christ-like.’ ” Kelly had this “urgent request” of the bishops: “Could you begin the discussion of the other way, Christ’s way? Could you help provide moral guidance to a majority that is voicing support for a bombing campaign, but with reserve and ambivalence? Could you open a dialogue of alternatives, concrete ideas leading to Christ’s truth in our hearts? Could you pray that we may be all open to God’s difficult and sometimes divisive message?”

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington thanked Gumbleton for his “prophetic voice,” but noted that governments have to defend their own people and reach out and protect the poor. “No one gets a free ride in our society,” the cardinal said. A member of the International Policy Committee that drafted the pastoral, McCarrick said the bishops need to be sure that “what we do is moral and the it upholds our values as Americans and our Judao-Christian values.”

Gumbleton countered: “Yes, but the mistake we make is in thinking that the only way to defend ourselves is through violence.”

In the end the bishops transformed their sentiments into votes, approving of the pastoral 167-4. A copy of the document appears on the bishops’ Web site: ww.usccb.org

-- Patricia Lefevere

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2001