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U.S. Bishops' Statement on War in Iraq

11/14/2007 - 23:15 PST

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"Our Nation and Its Leaders Face Important Decisions"

BALTIMORE, Maryland, NOV. 14, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the statement of Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, president of the U.S. episcopal conference, on the war in Iraq. The statement was affirmed Tuesday by the fall meeting of the U.S. bishops, under way in Baltimore.

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Our nation and its leaders face important decisions about the difficult challenges and terrible dilemmas in Iraq. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers in Baltimore, our thoughts and prayers are with our military personnel in Iraq, their families, and all the suffering people of Iraq. In this statement we seek to draw on our moral teaching to continue raising some ethical questions regarding the road ahead for our nation in Iraq.

Our Church both ministers among our troops and shares deep spiritual ties to the Church and people in Iraq. Pope Benedict XVI in his Urbi et Orbi Easter message of 2007 focused the world’s attention on Iraq, a nation “torn apart by continual slaughter.” As pastors and teachers, we are convinced that the current situation in Iraq remains unacceptable and unsustainable. Our Conference offers once again the goal of a “responsible transition” as an overall ethical framework for national decisions.

The dangerous political stalemate in Iraq that blocks national reconciliation finds a parallel in our own nation. We are alarmed by the political and partisan stalemate in Washington. Some policy makers seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the reality and failures in Iraq and the imperative for new directions. Others seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the potential human consequences of very rapid withdrawal. These two forms of denial have helped contribute to partisan paralysis.

As pastors, we have called for bipartisan action for almost two years. Our country needs a new direction to reduce the war’s deadly toll and to bring our people together to deal with the conflict’s moral and human dimensions. Our nation needs a new bipartisan approach to Iraq policy based on honest and civil dialogue. Our Conference encourages our national leaders to focus on the morally and politically demanding, but carefully limited goal of fostering a “responsible transition” and withdrawal at the earliest opportunity consistent with that goal. The moral demands of this path begin with addressing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and minimizing further loss of human life.

We do not have specific competence in political, economic and military strategies and do not assess particular tactics, but we can, as teachers, share a moral tradition to help inform policy choices. Our Catholic teaching on war and peace offers hard questions, not easy answers. Our nation must now focus more on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention. The grave moral concerns we and others raised prior to the war now give way to new moral questions. In the current situation the traditional principles of “noncombatant immunity” and “probability of success” suggest these questions: How can we minimize the further loss of human lives? What actions will do the most good and least harm? What elements of a responsible transition are attainable? How can they be achieved? What actions should be avoided? How can decision makers take into account both the realities and setbacks in Iraq and the likely human consequences of rapid withdrawal? What are the financial costs and global consequences of continued war and occupation? And, how can our nation effectively counter the perversion of religion and ideologies that support terrorism, which in all cases merits condemnation?

Catholic teaching has long held that peace is more than the absence of war; it is built on the foundation of justice. This moral insight means that building a just peace in Iraq requires far more than military action; it demands a comprehensive political, diplomatic and economic effort.

This effort begins in Iraq, but it does not end there. For this reason, we believe sustained U.S. efforts to collaborate with the other nations, including Syria and Iran, are critically important for bringing some measure of stability to Iraq.

The responsibility for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq rests primarily with Iraqis, but the United States as well as other nations have a practical and moral obligation to act. Given the extensive devastation in Iraq, the U.S. has a unique and inescapable obligation to continue to offer major and continuing support for economic development and reconstruction. Respect for Iraqi selfdetermination suggests that our nation should reiterate our pledge not to seek permanent military bases in Iraq, nor control over Iraqi oil resources.

A neglected policy priority is the dire situation of refugees outside the country, internally displaced persons within Iraq, Christians and other vulnerable ...

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