Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 23, 2002
U.S. bishops oppose pre-emptive strike on Iraq
'Step back for the brink of war,' they urge
By WILLY THORN
Catholic News Service
Any "pre-emptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq" cannot be justified at this time, the U.S. bishops told President George W. Bush.
The bishops urged Bush "to step back from the brink of war and help lead the world to act together to fashion an effective global response to Iraq's threats."
In a letter to Bush, the bishops used Catholic just-war criteria to argue that unilateral strikes against Iraq would differ from the use of force against Afghanistan.
"Given the precedents and risks involved, we find it difficult to justify extending the war on terrorism to Iraq, absent clear and adequate evidence of Iraqi involvement in the attacks of Sept. 11 or of an imminent attack of a grave nature," the bishops said.
The letter released in Washington Sept. 17, was signed by Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. bishops' conference, on behalf of the bishops' administrative committee.
Addressing the UN General Assembly Sept. 12, Bush said U.S. military action against Iraq would be unavoidable unless the United Nations forced the Mideast nation to disarm.
Iraq announced Sept. 16 it would allow, without conditions, the return of UN weapons inspectors.
Pope John Paul Sept. 18 said Iraq's promise to allow the unconditional return of UN weapons inspectors was "good news" and called for prayers for continued efforts to prevent war.
In the bishops' letter, Gregory said the Catechism of the Catholic Church limits the just-war criterion of "just cause" to "cases in which the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations is lasting, grave and certain."
"Is there clear and adequate evidence of a direct connection between Iraq and the attacks of Sept. 11 or clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature?" he wrote.
"Should not a distinction be made between efforts to change unacceptable behaviour of a government and efforts to end that government's existence?"
He said the moral credibility of force depends on legitimate authority and, as such, "decisions of such gravity require compliance with U.S. constitutional imperatives, broad consensus within our own nation, and some form of international sanction, preferably by the UN Security Council."
Gregory said war against Iraq could result in dangerous and unpredictable effects upon Iraqi civilians and Middle East stability. "Would . . . force succeed in thwarting serious threats or, instead, provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent?"
"How would another war in Iraq impact the civilian population, in the short- and long-term? How many more innocent people would suffer and die, or be left without homes, without basic necessities, without work?
"Would the United States and international community commit to the arduous, long-term task of ensuring a just peace or would a post-Saddam (Hussein) Iraq continue to be plagued by civil conflict and repression and continue to serve as a destabilizing force in the region?" he asked.
"Would war against Iraq detract from our responsibility to help build a just and stable order in Afghanistan and undermine the broader coalition against terrorism?"