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Issue Date:  December 24, 2004

Bishops called to speak out against Iraq war


During the recent U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Washington, the bishops were conspicuously silent about the Bush administration’s preemptive war policy and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. What’s puzzling is that the bishops’ conference initially opposed the U.S. war in Iraq. Now, more than a year and half later, the bishops are silent about a war that is destroying Iraq and continues to claim numerous Iraqi and American lives.

I commend the pope and the bishops’ conference position opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq prior to the war. The pope said: “No to war. It is always a defeat for humanity. International law, dialogue, solidarity between states, the noble exercise of diplomacy: These are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences.”

However, since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I have been appalled by the church’s support of U.S. Catholic soldiers going to war in Iraq and participating in an illegal occupation of that country.

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, head of the Military Archdiocese of the United States, publicly stated: “It was the opinion of the USCCB that given the complexity of the countless elements and arguments on either side, people of good faith could arrive at differing conclusions as to the moral justification of our armed interventions.”

He declared that it is permissible for Catholic soldiers to wage war against Iraq. Given the fact that the Vatican declared this war unjust, how could the bishops’ conference or Archbishop O’Brien suggest that going to war against Iraq be morally justified? In light of public disclosures that the Bush administration misled the public about the main reason for going to war -- the existence of weapons of mass destruction and their threatened use -- as well as the numerous atrocities that U.S. soldiers have committed in Iraq, this war must be condemned as immoral!

Tragically, due to the bishops’ moral ambiguity about the Iraq war, Catholic soldiers lack moral guidance about this war. They are faced with the choice to kill or be killed. They are put in a situation where their actions violate divine law and, sometimes, international laws. The torture of Iraqi prisoners and the attacks on Fallujah are just some of the horrifying acts U.S. soldiers have committed. Meanwhile, the death toll continues to mount. According to a report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 100,000 Iraqi civilians may have died as a result of the war. In addition, over 1,200 U.S. soldiers have been killed and well over 10,000 wounded.

All life is sacred. Thus, God commands us “Thou shalt not kill.” And Jesus commands us to love our enemies. These are absolute commands. This is the basis for my opposition to all war and killing. But even for those who are not pacifists, the false pretenses under which this war was waged, and without the sanction of the United Nations, make it immoral.

Therefore, I appeal to the conference of Catholic bishops, in a spirit of love, to uphold God’s law and the teachings of Jesus and to call on all Catholic soldiers to lay down their weapons, refuse to fight and kill their Iraqi brothers and sisters and leave Iraq now. I urge the bishops and all Catholics, including those in the military, to call for an immediate end to the immoral and illegal U.S. occupation of Iraq. I also call upon the bishops and the entire Catholic community to oppose the Bush administration’s policy of preemptive war.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, it is time for the bishops and the U.S. Catholic church to proclaim the gospel of peace by unequivocally calling for an end to Bush’s preemptive war policy, beginning with the illegal U.S. war in Iraq.

Art Laffin is a member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington. He visited Iraq in 1998 with a Voices in the Wilderness delegation. During the November meeting of the bishops’ conference, he distributed this appeal to more than 80 bishops and the U.S. papal nuncio.

National Catholic Reporter, December 24, 2004

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