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Bishops urge restraint on Iraq; question whether war could be just


An invasion of Iraq could be morally just, but U.S. Catholic bishops expressed “fear” that the use of force could run counter to the church’s teaching on war.

“With the Holy See and bishops from the Middle East and around the world, we fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force,” according to the three-page statement approved by the bishops Nov. 13. “Based on the facts that are known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature.”

Further, said the bishops, “The use of military force in Iraq could bring incalculable costs for a civilian population that has suffered so much from war, repression, and a debilitating embargo.”

Nevertheless, according to the statement, “there are no easy answers” to the problems posed by and Iraqi government. “Ultimately our elected leaders are responsible for decisions about national security, but we hope that our moral concerns and questions will be considered seriously.”

In addition, the bishops:

  • Questioned the so-called “Bush Doctrine,” under which the United States claims the right to strike preemptively against governments or terrorists that are deemed a grave threat to U.S. interests. “We are deeply concerned about recent proposals to expand dramatically traditional limits on just cause to include preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with weapons of mass destruction.”
  • Urged that any military action undertaken against Iraq “take place within the framework of the United Nations after considering the consequences for Iraqi civilians, and regional and global stability.”
  • Warned that a “war against Iraq could also detract from the responsibility to help build a just and stable order in Afghanistan and could undermine broader efforts to stop terrorism.”
  • Repeated their call for “more carefully focused economic sanctions which do not threaten the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians.”

The bishops also voiced their collective support for Catholics serving in the military, and explicitly reiterated previous conference statements indicating sympathy for conscientious objectors.

Said the bishops: “We support those who risk their lives in the service of our nation. We also support those who seek to exercise their right to conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection, as we have stated in the past.” U.S. law does not recognize a right to “selective conscientious objection,” where a potential combatant refuses to participate in a war based on specific objections to a particular conflict.

Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, outgoing chairman of the bishops’ International Policy Committee, said the statement “strikes a balance” between Catholics in the military who would likely be involved in a conflict with Iraq, and those Catholics outside the military who consider such a war immoral.

The statement was supported by 228 bishops, while 14 opposed it.

National Catholic Reporter, November 22, 2002