September 20, 2001
The Catholic Church condemns last week's attacks in the USA as 'an outrageous crime against our common humanity', which requires a response based on justice, not vengeance. This is the message of a joint statement by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, and Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool, respectively President and Vice-President of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
The archbishops urge that the response of the international community, especially through the United Nations, must be directed towards justice, reconciliation and healing, rather than be reduced to retribution and punishment. 'Military action must be a last resort, when all other political, legal and diplomatic remedies have been exhausted', they say.
The statement invokes three urgent principles:
Action must be proportionate, in that it needs to effectively restrain evil, rather than potentially unleash even greater evil;
Action must discriminate between guilty and innocent: 'whole peoples must not be punished for the actions of small and unrepresentative groups';
There must be a real prospect of success, without escalating conflict.
The archbishops commend politicians, religious leaders and those in the media who have warned against racist reprisals in Britain, and call for compassion for those suffering in various ways in some of the poorest countries of the world. They state: 'Everything done to overcome gross economic, social and political inequalities contributes to building up peace and avoiding war. The struggle to overcome terrorism must not deflect the international community from redressing fundamental injustices.'
Finally, the archbishops pray for 'those entrusted with the immense responsibility to act', and echo the statement of the US bishops in calling for renewed trust in God and a turning away from hatred.
The full statement follows.
STATEMENT ON THE CURRENT INTERNATIONAL SITUATION, 20 SEPTEMBER 2001 by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Archbishop Patrick Kelly, President and Vice-President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales
As President and Vice-President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, we express our horror at the events of 11 September, our unequivocal condemnation of the attack as an outrageous crime against our common humanity, and our sympathy with and prayers for the victims of the attack, their families and friends, and all who have been working heroically to rescue and care for the victims.
Such a crime demands a response on the basis of justice and law, not of vengeance. The instruments of international governance and law, and especially the United Nations, should be closely involved in agreeing the proper response to this atrocity, so that the international community will not be bitterly divided. From a Catholic point of view, legal remedies are not to be reduced to considerations of retribution and punishment, but are to be directed towards the ultimate goals of justice, reconciliation and healing.
Military action must be a last resort, when all other political, legal and diplomatic remedies have been exhausted. If, in the pursuit of law and justice, military action has to be taken, a Catholic and Christian framework of moral understanding has certain relevant and urgent principles to invoke:
- Proportionality. This principle does not concern the numbers of victims on either side, but to what extent the response achieves the effective restraint of evil, or, on the contrary, to what extent it could actually unleash even graver evil;
- Discrimination between the guilty and the innocent. Many of those most immediately guilty have already died. Now the crucial and necessary search is for the persons or groups who planned and authorised the attacks. But whole peoples must not be attacked and punished for the actions of small and unrepresentative groups;
- Prospect of success. Notions of a 'war against terrorism' aspire to guarantee that no group will ever again dare to mount such terrorist attacks. But to speak of a war against terrorism also carries with it a danger of unrestrained escalation and perpetuation of the conflict, and of multiplying the number of enemies in the next generation.
Within our own countries there are many innocent nationals who come from the regions which might conceivably be attacked by the Western allies. They, too, are potential victims of this tragedy. We are grateful that many distinguished political and religious leaders, and several media sources, have warned that reprisals against these innocent people are intolerable. We encourage the people of our countries to grow in respect and solidarity with this vulnerable group. In particular we call on all Christian people to remain faithful to the great commandment of love: love of God, of our neighbour and of our 'enemy'.
Some of the nations which might be accused of sheltering suspects of this crime are among the poorest in the world. Even before this event, their people have suffered grievously and are strongly represented among the world's refugees and asylum seekers. The present crisis can only worsen the plight of such refugees and asylum seekers. We urge our Government and our people to show compassion and humanity towards those who suffer in this way.
Nothing can justify the taking of innocent life, and we have a solemn obligation to try to prevent such outrages in future. One essential element of this effort is to understand the causes of violence and the context out of which it springs. Everything done to overcome gross economic, social and political inequalities contributes to building up peace and avoiding war. The struggle to overcome terrorism must not deflect the international community from redressing these fundamental injustices.
We pray for those entrusted with the immense responsibility to act in response to last week's attack, and who must make their decisions in the face of profound public grief and anger. Never, perhaps, will our societies be more tempted to hatred and vengeance. In these circumstances we wish to echo the words of our brother bishops in the United States of America, who said on the day of the attacks: 'We call upon all our fellow citizens to renew their trust in God and to turn away from the bitter fruits of the kind of hatred which is the source of this tragedy'.