WASHINGTON (March 19, 2003) -- Expressing the bishops' deep regret that war had not been averted, and calling for prayer and solidarity, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops today issued a statement on the likely war with Iraq.
"Our nation is on the brink of war. We worked and prayed and hoped that war would be avoided," said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville (IL). "The task now is to work and pray and hope that war's deadly consequences will be limited, that civilian life will be protected, that weapons of mass destruction will be eliminated, and that the people of Iraq will soon enjoy a peace with freedom and justice."
After issuing his statement, Bishop Gregory was set to preside at a Mass on the Feast of St. Joseph and to pray for peace in a time of war at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The 60 members of the USCCB Administrative Committee, meeting here this week, will concelebrate.
Bishop Gregory's statement, which is based on a framework adopted this morning by the Administrative Committee meeting here today, addressed several concerns:
- Prayer and Solidarity: Calling prayer and solidarity "our first obligation" at this time, it urges prayer for the "men and women who risk their lives in the service of our nation, their families and loved ones …, and the chaplains who serve them; the long-suffering people of Iraq, and those who labor to provide for their humanitarian needs."
- Iraq: The statement recalls the Bishops' consistent call on the Iraqi leadership to "abandon efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and to meet its obligations to destroy such weapons."
- Moral Concerns: Bishop Gregory noted that the bishops' "moral concerns and questions, as well as the call of the Holy Father to find alternatives to war, are well known and reflect prudential judgments about the application of traditional Catholic teaching on the use of force in this case." He reaffirmed concern about "the precedents that could be set and the possible consequences of a major war of this type in perhaps the most volatile region of the world."
- Conscience: Bishop Gregory acknowledged that "war has serious consequences, and so could failure to act" and "that people of good will can and do differ" on these matters. He quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the vocation of military service, expressing support for "those who have accepted the call to serve their country in a conscientious way in the armed services" and "for those who pursue conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection."
- The Moral Conduct of War: Bishop Gregory stated that "every effort must be made to ensure that efforts to reduce the risk to U.S. forces are limited by careful judgments of military necessity and the duty to respect the lives and dignity of Iraqi civilians, who have suffered so much already from war, repression, and a debilitating embargo." He added, "in all our actions in war, including assessments of whether 'collateral damage' is proportionate, we must value the lives and livelihood of Iraqi civilians as we would the lives and livelihood of our own families and our own citizens."
- Humanitarian Concerns: Bishop Gregory said that "even amidst the chaos of war, every effort must be made to prevent internal strife and to protect vulnerable groups. We are deeply concerned that adequate resources and effective plans be put in place to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, which, at least in the short term, will be worsened by war." He also said that the United States must accept "the long-term responsibility to help Iraqis build a just and enduring peace in their country, while also addressing the many serious unresolved issues in the Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
The statement issued today builds on Bishop Gregory's letter to President Bush in September 2002, the statement of the full body of Bishops in November 2003, and Bishop Gregory's statement last month. It reflects and complements the strong witness for peace and work to avoid war of Pope John Paul II and the Holy See.
This and other Church statements on Iraq, educational, and liturgical resources on war and peace can be found on the Web at www.usccb.org.
NOTE: The full text of Bishop Gregory's statement.