WASHINGTON (February 10, 1998)--In a four-page letter to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, the chairman of the International Policy Committee, United States Catholic Conference (USCC) said "Means short of war must be found to contain and overcome the Iraqi regime's threat to its own people and to the world."
"We fear that the use of military force in this case could pose an undue risk to an already suffering civilian population, could well be disproportionate to the ends sought, and could fail to resolve legitimate concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," wrote Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark.
In his letter to Secretary Albright, Archbishop McCarrick supported international efforts to address Iraq's continuing noncompliance with U.N. cease fire resolutions; urged new efforts to address "the continuing, unmerited suffering of innocent Iraqi civilians"; and urged the international community to focus on intense diplomatic and political efforts to address Iraq's irresponsible behavior. It said the kind of military action being considered raises fundamental moral questions.
(Archbishop McCarrick sent a copy of the Feb. 5 letter to every Catholic Bishop in the country, noting that its positions reflect past USCC statements dating back to 1991, as well as the discussion at the Bishops' General Meeting last November. He also noted that it is in accord with statements by Pope John Paul II, who has frequently raised concerns about the Iraqi embargo. In his Sunday blessing February 8, the Pope expressed hope that international leaders would "use the instruments of diplomacy and dialogue to avoid any use of weapons.")
"The government of Iraq must cooperate fully and promptly with the United Nations in the elimination of its capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons," Archbishop McCarrick wrote. "The use of these weapons is morally unacceptable under all circumstances, as is their possession by a state which has in fact employed such weapons, both against its neighbors and its own citizens."
"The world should unite in non-violent opposition to the intransigence of the Iraqi government," he wrote.
Repeating the U.S. Bishops' previous call to reshape the existing embargo against Iraq, the Archbishop said "some targeted sanctions are justified to contain Iraq's threats to its neighbors but sanctions must not destroy the lives of Iraq's civilian population."
"The U.N. sanctions regime has achieved some of its objectives for disarming Iraq," Archbishop McCarrick continued. "We believe, however, that it is time to acknowledge that the death and suffering of the Iraqi people brought about because of sanctions seems to us morally intolerable and unacceptable."
"We acknowledge that the primary responsibility for remedying this situation lies with the Iraqi government," he stated.
"Nevertheless, it is beyond dispute that the U.N embargo has been a contributing factor in the widespread death, malnutrition and disease among Iraq's civilian population...To contribute significantly, though indirectly, to their hunger and disease is unconscionable, no matter how egregious the actions of their leaders. We cannot fail to heed their cries for help."
Archbishop McCarrick said the Bishops welcome recent proposals to expand the oil-for-food program and streamline its implementation.
"We urge in addition that steps be taken to reshape the embargo, establishing clear criteria for lifting the restrictions on trade in civilian goods, while retaining a strict embargo on military equipment and technology, as well as appropriate political sanctions."
"Iraq's failure to comply with legitimate U.N. efforts to enforce the cease fire resolutions is a serious matter and its attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction...a clear danger. Nevertheless, every effort must be made to resolve the present crisis through diplomatic means at your disposal," Archbishop McCarrick wrote.
Given the moral complexity of this situation, "the international community should give new diplomatic and political efforts priority over resort to military force," the Archbishop said. "Pursuing a political solution may be a difficult and demanding task, but it is called for given the moral necessity of protecting innocent Iraqis and serious doubts about the inability to eliminate Iraq's capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction through military strikes."