…It is essential that the State (Iraq), with the assistance of the International Community, promote mutual understanding and tolerance among its various ethnic and religious groups. This will enable the people of the region to create an environment that is not only committed to justice and peace but is also capable of sustaining the necessary economic growth and development integral for the well being of your citizens and the country itself.
--Pope John Paul II, November 15, 2004
THE BISHOPS’ POSITION PRIOR TO THE WAR
The USCCB issued four major letters/statements prior to the war: Bishop Wilton Gregory to President George Bush (9/13/2002); Statement on Iraq by USCCB (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)
The recent election of January 30 is 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.
Tragically, the security situation remains dangerous and uncertain. Terrorists and insurgents are likely to 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 reports of prisoner abuse and mistreatment of detainees 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, there may be political pressures within the U.S. to withdraw in ways that may not promote stability. Another critically important way to enhance security is to accelerate the economic and social reconstruction of Iraq.
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. Recent statements by Shia leaders that they will respect the rights of minorities and not create a theocracy are encouraging. There is still some fear that the new Iraqi government could be hostile to religious liberty. On the other hand, the interim constitution protects religious freedom and designates Islam as a source of legislation, not the source. The question of religious liberty needs to be resolved in the new constitution. 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.
In recent months, USCCB President Bishop Wilton Gregory issued a major statement on Iraq (June 22, 2004) and Bishop John Richard, the Chair of the International Committee, issued a statement and wrote to Congressional Conferees regarding abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Although the U.S. bishops raised fundamental questions about the decision to go to war, by virtue of its intervention the United States now 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. In December the International Policy Committee affirmed the following:
I. 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.
- 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.
- 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