The Bishops' Position Prior to the War
USCCB issued four major letters/statements prior to the war: Bishop Wilton Gregory letter to President George Bush (9/13/2002); U.S. Bishops' Statement on Iraq (11/13/2002); Statements of Bishop Gregory (2/26/2003 & 3/19/2003). Bishop Gregory summarized the bishops' position: Our bishops' conference continues to question the moral legitimacy of any preemptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq. To permit preemptive or preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening or hostile regimes would create deeply troubling moral and legal precedents. Based on the facts that are known, it is difficult to justify resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature or Iraq's involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11. With the Holy See and many religious leaders throughout the world, we believe that resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force. (2/26/2003) Current Situation
The election of January 2005 was a welcome sign of progress for Iraqis in their efforts to build a democratic society. While establishing security is still paramount, the need to rebuild the economy of Iraq and develop a constitution that respects fundamental human rights, including religious liberty, are key tasks before the new government.
Iraqis will vote on a proposed constitution on October 15, 2005; it is unclear if this constitution will adequately protect religious liberty or gain enough Sunnis support to undermine the insurgency.
Tragically, the security situation remains dangerous and uncertain. Terrorists and insurgents continue to target both security personnel and civilians in an effort to destabilize the new government. The U.S. remains in a difficult position as it must continue to provide basic security even though its presence is still resented by many in Iraq and across the Muslim world. The additional reports of prisoner abuse and mistreatment of detainees, on a wider scale than previously thought, further compromise the role of occupation forces. On the other hand, many Iraqi leaders have made it clear that the presence of U.S. and Coalition forces is important during this time of transition. As the occupation continues, political pressures within the U.S. are building supporting a withdrawal in ways that may not promote stability. Other important ways to enhance security are to accelerate economic and social reconstruction in Iraq; but both seem to be lagging.
For Iraqi Christians, the security situation remains very tense. Many Christians view the attacks on Christians over the last several months as attacks on all Iraqis. Nevertheless, a high proportion of Iraqi refugees are Christians. Statements by Shia leaders that they will respect the rights of minorities and not create a theocracy are encouraging. However, there is still some fear that the new Iraqi government may not fully respect religious liberty. The proposed constitution has contradictory clauses regarding religious liberty. The key now is the implementation of the constitution in law and practice. Many agree that the role of Islam must be respected, but this must be done in a way that protects the rights of religious minorities, including Muslim and Christian minorities.
USCCB President Bishop Wilton Gregory issued a major statement on Iraq (June 22, 2004); on August 8, 2005 Bishop John Ricard, Chairman wrote to the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor to urge stronger action to protect religious liberty in the new constitution; and on October 4, 2005 Bishop John Richard, the Chair of the International Committee, wrote to the US Senate regarding abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Although the U.S. bishops initially raised fundamental questions about the decision to go to war, they now say that the United States has a grave obligation to work with other countries and the United Nations on sustained, long-term basis to work with Iraqis to build a just and enduring peace in their country. In December 2004 the International Policy Committee affirmed the following framework:
- Political/Military Situation
- In the wake of the Iraqi elections, urge the United States to: (1) send a clear signal that the U.S. goal is to help Iraqis assume full control of their governance and not to occupy the nation for an indeterminate period; and (2) remain only as long as it takes for a "responsible transition" (leaving sooner rather than later). A "responsible transition" implies sufficient military and economic support to achieve security and economic reconstruction.
- Promote a renewed and intensive effort to engage the international community and the United Nations in providing for security and economic reconstruction.
- Re-emphasize the urgent need for humanitarian relief and substantial rebuilding.
- Address any use of force that seems to fail the tests of proportionality and discrimination. In light of further evidence of persistent and new human rights violations, urge immediate steps be taken to end these violations, especially the mistreatment of prisoners and detainees, and to prevent future occurrences.
- Continue to offer pastoral support to members of the military and their families.
- Religious Liberty: Plight of Iraqi Christians
- Assist those seeking to promote respect for religious liberty in the new permanent constitution. Consult with others, especially the Christian community in Iraq, on how best to achieve this goal.
- Support the Christians in Iraq-continuing to press their case with the U.S. government. Deepen the bonds of solidarity with the Christian community in Iraq.
- Preventive War, International Law and U.S. Policy
- In consultation with the Holy See, explore moral questions regarding preventive or preemptive war, international law and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
- Oppose funding for new nuclear weapons, promote restraint and encourage the Administration and Congress to embrace nonproliferation. (See "Nuclear Weapons and Landmines" Backgrounder.)
- In concert with the Holy See, reiterate the Church's support for the mission of the U.N. and the function of international law.
- Encourage the Administration to engage in diplomatic and substantive initiatives with Iran and Syria to engage them in constructive ways to help secure regional peace. Support appropriate security guarantees for Iran to reduce the drive to acquire nuclear weapons
For further information: Stephen Colecchi, Director, Office of International Justice and Peace (IJP), USCCB, 202-541-3160 (ph); 541-3339 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org; or Walt Grazer, IJP, 202-541-3182 (ph); 541-339 (fax); email@example.com. Also visit: /sdwp/peace/index.shtml