As the international community continues to watch with great anxiety the daily developments in the escalating crisis with Iraq, it is important that we reflect on not only the political questions involved but also the human and moral dimensions of the issue.
While people of good will may disagree on how just war principles apply in the current situation with Iraq, it is clear that two fundamental moral questions are before us:
- First, how to protect the common good by ensuring that Iraq complies with its obligation to disarm according to the legitimate directives of the United Nations resolutions.
- Second, how to address this situation in a manner that respects traditional moral norms as outlined in the just war ethic.
In a Nov. 13, 2002 Statement, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that "based on the facts that are known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature. With the Holy See and Bishops from the Middle East and around the world, we fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force."
While much has happened since that Statement was released last November, the underlying concerns that led the Bishops to this judgment seem to remain valid for the following reasons:
- First, those who would justify war must, according to just war principles, demonstrate that Iraq poses an imminent threat to its neighbors or the world community. To accept the notion that the preemptive use of force is justified in this case even absent an imminent threat of attack would create a dangerous moral precedent.
- Second, it is United Nations' resolutions that are being violated or shunned. It seems appropriate, therefore, that the United Nations be the one to decide how to respond to issues of noncompliance.
- Third, the United States and the United Nations must carefully calculate the possible consequences of military action. What would be the impact on the long-suffering Iraqi population? Would it further destabilize an already volatile situation in the Middle East? Would military intervention provoke the very attacks with weapons of mass destruction that it is intended to prevent? Is it realistic to believe that a military solution can usher in a more democratic culture in Iraq or will such action only serve to further destabilize the region and fuel distrust of Western motives and intentions? Would military intervention be followed by serious, long-term efforts to create a just peace in Iraq and the region? The terrible and often unintended consequences of war require a sober and realistic answer to these and other questions.
As we watch and wait for the developments in the Middle East to unfold, I would encourage all parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to include in their weekend liturgies special prayers for peace. I would invite all people of the Archdiocese to join with me in prayer for the leaders of all nations that they may exercise their duties with great wisdom and in the pursuit of peace. I would encourage prayers for the safety and well-being of the men and women in military service who have been deployed to the region. I would ask your prayers for the people of Iraq and the Middle East who know first hand the inhumanity of war that peace may come swiftly to all peoples of the region.
Today, the world stands at the brink of war. In these times of grave crises we are called to draw deeply from our moral wisdom and faith in God to help us plot a path to peace. War is not the solution. I join my prayers with all people of faith for the Spirit of Wisdom to guide world leaders to forge a new road to peace.