WASHINGTON (February 26, 2003) -- Echoing Pope John Paul II's words that war with Iraq is "not inevitable," the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops today said "serious ethical questions and concerns" about a possible war remain unresolved since they were initially raised last autumn.
At the same time, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville (IL) called on Catholics to pray and fast, especially on Ash Wednesday, "that our nation and world will find effective ways short of war to secure justice, increase security, and promote genuine peace for all God's people."
Bishop Gregory said that based on information currently available to the public, and lacking clear evidence of an imminent attack against the United States or evidence of Iraqi complicity in the September 11 attacks, resort to war "would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force."
"To permit preemptive or preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening or hostile regimes would create deeply troubling moral and legal precedents," said Bishop Gregory.
He joined the Pope's call for Iraq to take "concrete steps" to comply with the "legitimate demands" of the international community.
"Iraq must act immediately and effectively to meet these demands both to avoid armed conflict and to prove that it intends to change its ways," said Bishop Gregory.
The USCCB has formally raised its concerns about a possible war with Iraq on at least two occasions since September.
On September 13, Bishop Gregory sent a letter to President Bush in which he said the unilateral, preemptive use of force at that time would be "difficult to justify." Two months later, the full membership of the USCCB adopted a statement urging world leaders to "step back from the brink of war."
Should military force ultimately be used, Bishop Gregory said the United States must be prepared to act with restraint during a war and be committed long term to assist Iraq recover from the aftermath of war despite tight budget constraints.
"If the decision to use military force is taken, the moral and legal constraints on the conduct of war must be observed," Bishop Gregory said. "This is expected of every civilized nation. It surely is expected of ours. We are threatened by regimes and terrorists who ignore traditional norms governing the use of force; all the more reason that we must uphold and reinforce them through our own actions."
Pope John Paul II has called on Catholics worldwide to dedicate their fasting on Ash Wednesday, March 5, for the peaceful resolution of disputes. In addition, a number of U.S. dioceses have identified Sunday, March 2, as a special day of prayer and reflection. The USCCB has developed a variety of liturgical and educational resources to help dioceses and parishes with these efforts. These are available on the Web at www.usccb.org/sdwp/peace
Text of Bishop Gregory's Statement on Iraq.