The Bishops and the War
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued four major letters/ statements on Iraq prior to the war: Bishop Wilton Gregory to President George Bush (9/13/02); Statement of full body of bishops (11/13/02); Statement of Bishop Gregory (2/26/03); Statement of Bishop Gregory (3/19/03). Bishop Gregory summarized the bishops position on February 26:
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. These statements, along with educational and prayer resources, were disseminated widely and received considerable media attention. In addition, the leadership of the USCCB met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Iraq in May and September 2002, and March 2003. The USCCB also assisted with special papal envoy Cardinal Pio Laghis visit to Washington to meet with President Bush on March 5, 2003.
Many individual bishops around the country issued their own statements or joined in interfaith statements, prayer services for peace, or other activities. It is impossible to summarize the many educational, advocacy and witness activities of diocesan social action offices, parishes and various Catholic organizations. These efforts had an impact. While polls tended to show that a majority of Catholics supported the war in the end, this support was soft and highly qualified. Interestingly, one poll showed that 57% of Catholics expressed support for the bishops when told they opposed the war (Le Moyne College/ Zogby International, 3/03) and another found that Catholics were 10-15% less likely to support the war than the general public (Wall Street Journal/NBC News, 1/03).
Urgent Post War Concerns
While the U.S. Bishops did not support the military intervention in Iraq, now that the United States has intervened, it has a grave obligation to work with other countries and the United Nations on sustained, long-term efforts to work with Iraqis to build a just and enduring peace in their country. Issues of particular concern include the following:
Solidarity with Church and people in Iraq. This is a critical time to renew and deepen our bonds of solidarity with the Church and people in Iraq through CRS, CNEWA, and other Catholic aid programs, and by establishing direct links to the Christian community in Iraq.
Religious freedom. Fundamental human rights, especially religious freedom, must be fully respected in the new Iraq. Iraq is at a critical juncture as it prepares for self governance by June 30, 2004. A transitional law to govern Iraq until a constitution is developed and approved is scheduled to be completed by February 28. That law could provide an important precedent for the constitution, which is likely to be approved in 2005. The legal status of Islam and minority religious groups is a critical issue still to be resolved. Many involved would agree that the particular cultural and historical role of Islam in Iraq must be respected, but it remains unclear whether that will be done in a way that ensures that religious freedom and the rights of minorities are also fully respected. Unfortunately, given the multitude of pressing challenges faced by the Coalition Provisional Authority, religious liberty has not been given the attention it deserves. As the draft transitional law shows, there are strong pressures to form some kind of Islamic state that, while not likely to be an Iranian-type theocracy, could well place the Christian minority and other minorities in an untenable position. Therefore, it is necessary to press the Administration to do all that it can to ensure that full religious freedom for all is guaranteed in Iraq.
Humanitarian/reconstruction aid. In letters to Congress on the supplemental appropriations (3/28/03, 4/09/03), Bishop John Ricard, Chair of the Bishops International Policy Committee, urged that sufficient funding be provided for humanitarian and development needs in Iraq (and Afghanistan), that the military should not have a leading role in relief and reconstruction efforts, but should cooperate, as necessary, with NGOs who have experience and expertise in relief and development. Cardinal McCarrick raised similar concerns in a meeting of a dozen religious leaders with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last April. Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and other Catholic agencies will continue to do all that they can to respond to the needs of the Iraqi people, and to work with the Church in Iraq to ensure that it will continue to have a role in meeting humanitarian and development needs.
Security and basic services. Relief and development efforts cannot succeed, however, without adequate security, a restoration of basic services, and a functioning government. Much more needs to be done to address these serious needs in Iraq.
The role of the United Nations. The United Nations has an essential role to play in addressing humanitarian issues, contributing to the formation of a government that has international legitimacy, and addressing other post-war issues.
Iraq and broader issues. The war with Iraq has raised fundamental questions about the U.S. role in the world which must be addressed. Among these are finding ways other than preventive war to deal with challenges posed by rogue regimes and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; abiding by strict limits on the use of military force; and strengthening the United Nations and international law as part of a system of cooperative security.
Other priorities. War and reconstruction in Iraq must not result in an abandonment of our nations responsibilities to the poor at home and abroad, or a diversion of essential resources from other humanitarian emergencies around the world.
For Further Information: Gerard Powers, Director, Office of International Justice and Peace, USCCB, 202-541-3160 (ph); 541-3339 (fax); usccb.org/sdwp; or Kathy Brown, Catholic Relief Services, (410) 951-7232, firstname.lastname@example.org.