Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
June 24, 2005
We have read with concern and dismay the reports by our brother bishops in Zimbabwe of the wholesale destruction of homes and businesses of ordinary people by government authorities in the recent, so-called “Operation Restore Order.” The fact that all of the homes and businesses may not have been legally permitted cannot justify the cruel violence visited by the authorities on peaceful and innocent people, especially the destruction of homes during a time of inclement weather and food shortages.
The bishops of Zimbabwe in their eloquent pastoral letter of this month, “The Cry of the Poor,” remind us of Jesus’ concern for the weak and vulnerable and his admonition that “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
We stand in solidarity with the bishops of Zimbabwe in their emphasis of the dignity of the human person that was so crassly violated by the violent conduct of “Operation Restore Order.” The violence that resulted in the denial of food and shelter is a perversion of governmental authority, “since the common good is the reason that political authority exists.” The common good requires fostering conditions that help families and individuals “to achieve the full development for living a truly human life” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church no. 168). The teaching of the Church further states that “whenever public authority—which has its foundation in human nature and belongs to the order pre-ordained by God—fails to seek the common good, it abandons its proper purpose and so delegitimizes itself” (Compendium no. 398).
We call upon the Zimbabwean authorities, since they failed to take precautions for the well-being of those they have dispossessed, to provide urgently needed shelter, food and full restitution of property and other losses. We urge the government of Zimbabwe to facilitate the efforts of those organizations (including those sponsored by the Church) to provide humanitarian and development assistance to the poor and defenseless.
We also call upon the international community to pressure the government of Zimbabwe to cease such brutal treatment of its own people and to provide alternative housing, food and employment for those it has victimized. We note with approval the reported decision of the United Nations to send a special envoy to investigate the situation arising from “Operation Restore Order.”
As the bishops of Zimbabwe have reminded us, “We cannot lead a double way of life, one for Sunday services in Church and another for our public tasks, be they political, economic, social or other kind. We are always called to be guided by our conscience and to live our Christian faith as an integrated part of our lives.”
We offer our profound respect to our brother bishops in Zimbabwe for their brave and forthright pastoral ministry in these difficult days and assure them of our prayers and support.