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Letter from U.S. Catholic leaders to U.S. Ambassador

February 4, 2003

The Honorable Jim Nicholson
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Dear Ambassador Nicholson,

We have read a disturbing report that you have appointed a U.S. theologian to meet with representatives of the Holy See to outline the moral justification for the current preparation for war against Iraq and the eventual war that seems now to be inevitable. As you prepare for this meeting we, leaders of a significant number of Catholics in the U.S., would like to share with you our thoughts and concerns about the preparations for war and the proposed meeting between you and the theologian and the Holy See.

For months the Administration has been preparing for military action against Iraq. Beginning with threats against Iraq, the U.S. impelled the United Nations to enact a Security Council resolution requiring Iraq to destroy all weapons of mass destruction that the country is alleged to have. In the months since that resolution passed an international arms inspection team has been in Iraq investigating the potential development and stockpiling of weapons. However, they have found little to support the U.S. Administration’s claim that Iraq poses the threat that the President and others would like us to believe.

During all this time, the Administration has continued to prepare for war, by deploying troops to the Middle East, conducting war games in the U.S., resuming the use of live ammunition target practice in Vieques, lobbying the international community for support, and changing the message so that it remains unclear what the real purpose of any U.S. military action would be. While the purpose and goals of the Administration remain unclear, what has been very clear is the message of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world, especially the Catholic community in the U.S. that we represent.

As leaders of Catholic organizations, religious orders, theologians, educators, and pastoral workers, we have dialogued and reflected on the current situation in light of our rich tradition of Catholic Social Teaching and our practical experiences. Our reflection, guided also by the clear and consistent statements from our Church leaders, including Pope John Paul II, have led us to conclude that any military action against Iraq at this time is not morally justifiable. There remain many avenues of peaceful, diplomatic alternatives that have not been explored. The international community does not support a planned war. A clear and imminent threat has not been proven. The use of preemptive strikes is not recognized by the international community as a legitimate use of the military against another nation, nor is it morally defensible. Now that the Administration has publicly stated that it will not rule out the use of nuclear weapons as a first strike strategy, we are even more convinced that this is not a war that is being planned with any concern for proportionality or concern for innocent life, nor does it respect the autonomy of the modern nation-state. In addition, the threat of several days of military strikes to destroy the infrastructure and demoralize the Iraqi people clearly violates our belief that “every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2315).

Mr. Ambassador, our Church has spoken clearly and with an almost unanimous voice condemning this build up to war. Therefore, we are very concerned that you have selected one theologian to represent the U.S. Catholic community’s position on the morality of this war without any consultation with the recognized Catholic leaders in the U.S. who have helped many of us craft our clear and consistent message against the Administration’s actions. In a country where we have a time honored and legally protected right to the separation of Church and State, the appointment of a theologian seems to us to violate that separation. In addition, we are concerned that this action could actually lead to a misrepresentation of the teachings of our Bishops, religious leaders, and theologians, who have worked in concert to educate the entire Catholic community in the United States.

We recognize that Catholic thought on this subject is not monolithic. There is a diversity of opinion, but it seems that with our Bishops and others in so close agreement, a pro-war voice does not represent the voice of U.S. Catholics on this issue.

On January 13, Pope John Paul spoke to the ambassadors of the world accredited to the Vatican. During that audience, which you attended, he said, “No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.” In addition, the U.S. Catholic Bishops, in a statement to the Catholics of U.S. said, “Based on the facts 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.” We agree with and support these statements, and we call on you to ensure that you will represent the full voice of the Catholic community when you meet with representatives of the Vatican. We urge you to open the meetings to others beyond your appointed theologian and Vatican representatives to ensure a balanced and well-informed dialogue on U.S. foreign policy.

You can be assured that through our individual contacts with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Vatican, and among our colleagues in the U.S. we will continue to question the morality of this move to war. We will call on all people, not just our Catholic sisters and brothers, to use whatever means they have to raise their voices in opposition to war, and to seek paths of peace that will avert war and create new relationships built on justice and respect.


Rev. Canice Connors, OFMConv.
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Dave Robinson
National Coordinator
Pax Christi, USA

Jean Stokan
Policy Director
Pax Christi, USA

Phyllis Jepson
Director of Local/Regional Development
Pax Christi, USA

Rev. Maurice L. Restivo, CSB
Office of the Permanent Diaconate
Diocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas

Brother Robert Schieler, FSC
De La Salle Christian Brothers

Abbot Peter Eberlie, OSB
Swiss American Benedictine Congregation

Rev. Edward Zemelko, CSB

Maryknoll Sisters
Congregational Leadership Team
Suzanne Moore
Ellen McDonald
Connie Krautkremer
Jeane Rancourt

Rev. John Sivalon, MM
Superior General
Maryknoll Missionaries

Rev. Frank McGourn, MM
Vicar General
Maryknoll Missionaries

Rev. John Barth, MM
Assistant General
Maryknoll Missionaries

Rev. John McAuley, MM
Assistant General
Maryknoll Missionaries

Rev. David Reid, SSCC
Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

Carol L. Reis, SNJM
Justice and Peace Committee
Sisters of the Holy Names, NY Province

Rev. Wallace Platt, CSB
American College
Catholic University of Louvain

Rev. Leonard DePasquale, IMC
Consolata Missionaries
Regional Superior, North America Region

Rev. Robert Duggan, CSB

Rosanne Rustemeyer, SSND
Executive Director
U.S. Catholic Mission Association

Rev. Richard M. Myhalyk, SSE
Superior General
Society of St. Edmund

Rev. Michael Higgins, CP
Holy Cross Province
Congregation of the Passion

Rev. Bob Seguin, SCB
Medellin, Colombia

Rev. Kevin, Kirley, CSB

Richard Iaquinto, OSB
And the Benedictine Monks
Weston Priory
Weston, Vermont

Brother Edward Walsh, CFA
Superior General
Alexian Brothers

Rev. John Doctor, OFM
Provincial Minister
Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart
St. Louis, MO

Rev. Dennis Conway, MCCJ
Provincial Superior
North American Province
Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus

Very Rev. David L. Brecht, OSA
Prior Provincial

Abbot E. Thomas De Wane, O.Praem
St. Norbert Abbey
De Pere, WI

Kenneth J. Decker, CSB
Superior General
Basilian Fathers

Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB
Subiaco Abbey

Rev. Thomas Picton, CSsR
Vice Province of New Orleans

Rev. Robert Scullin, SJ
Detroit Province

Rev. John Murphy, FMSI
Sons of Mary, Health of the Sick

Rev. William Quigley, CICM

Marie Dennis
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Sr. Tina Geiger, RSM
Justice Team
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Sr. Marilee Howard, RSM
Justice Team
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Sr. Susan Severin, RSM
Justice Team
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Rev. Stan De Boe, OSST
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Rev. Don Kuder, CSB

The Center of Concern

Washington, DC

Edward M. Ruane, OP
Prior Provincial
Dominican Central Province

Fr. Richard Roy, M.Afr.
Assistant Provincial

Rev. Mel Jurisich, OFM
Minister Provincial
Franciscan Friars of California

Abbot Edmund Boyce, OSB
St. Benedict’s Abbey
Benet Lake, WI

Roman and Theresa Rodriguez

Rev. Hubert Beaudoin, O.Praem.
Daylesford Abbey
Paoli, PA

Rev. John Burger, SSC
Society of St. Columban

Fred Link, OFM
Provincial Minister
Order of Friars Minor
Province of St. John the Baptist

Rev. Donald J. McEachin, CSSp
U.S. East Provincial Superior
Congregation of the Holy Spirit

Rev. Richard Wahl, CSB
Social Justice Committee
Congregation of St. Basil

Rev. Richard Thibodeau, CSsR
Provincial Superior
The Redemptorists/Denver Province

Brother Daniel Caron, FIC
Provincial Superior
Brothers of Christian Instruction

Robert Repicky, CSB
Basilian Fathers

Rev. John Dear, SJ
Rev. Andrew D. Ciferni, O.Praem., PhD
Daylesford Abbey
Paoli, PA

Janet Gottschalk, MMS
Alliance for Justice
Medical Mission Sisters, North America

Rev. William Callahan
Quixote Center

National Catholic Reporter, Posted February 4, 2003