War on Iraq Not Yet Justified, Bishops Say
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
New York Times, 14 Nov, WASHINGTON — Roman Catholic bishops in the United States issued a statement today saying that they cannot now find a moral justification for a pre-emptive war against Iraq because there is no adequate evidence that Iraq is about to attack.
The bishops, gathered here on the third day of their annual fall meeting, urged the United States government and the world to "continue to pursue actively alternatives to war." They said that an attack on Iraq did not meet the Catholic tradition's criteria for a "just war," in part because such a war could create more "evils and disorders" than it would eliminate.
They said that a war against Iraq could cause more suffering to Iraqi civilians, provoke wider conflict and instability in the region and detract from the effort to stabilize Afghanistan and prevent terrorism elsewhere.
"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," the bishops' statement says. "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."
In introducing the statement for the bishops' consideration today, Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, chairman of the bishops' international affairs committee, said that the statement "does not ignore Iraq's dangerous behavior, intentions and threats."
"We call on the government of Iraq to comply with the world's legitimate demands," Cardinal Law said.
The bishops debated an amendment from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit pledging the "prayerful support" of the bishops to military personnel who "conscientiously dissent from a choice for war."
Auxiliary Bishop John J. Kaising, an auxiliary bishop of the military services who is also a veteran, objected to Bishop Gumbleton's amendment, saying: "If we pass this, does that mean that those who do not object and who go because their units are going and their commanders say they've got to go, does that mean they're wrong? I don't think we can do that to a soldier, sailor or marine who follows his commander in chief."
The final statement included a compromise in which the bishops said: "We support those who risk their lives in the service of their nation. We also support those who seek to exercise their right to conscientious objection."
The bishops' statement praises the United States for winning the unanimous support of the United Nations' Security Council for a resolution calling on Iraq to disarm.
The bishops said they would pray that the United Nations action "will not simply be a prelude to war but a way to avoid it."