Cardinal Law´s Address on Post-Sept. 11 Pastoral Message

At U.S. Bishops´ Conference Meeting

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WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 18, 2001 ( Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Massachusetts, delivered this address at the annual conference of the U.S. bishops´ conference last week.

* * *

Remarks To The General Meeting
Of The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Regarding the Pastoral Message
on the Aftermath of September 11
Bernard Cardinal Law
Chairman of the International Policy Committee

History will not forget September 11th. Not only are we a different nation now, but the aftershocks of September 11 are redefining international relations. As the tragic events of September eleventh unfolded, our hearts and the hearts of people throughout the world were broken by the raw evil of the attacks. In a matter of minutes the hopes of young lives were ended, families were shattered, heroism into death was demonstrated by those too often taken for granted, personal grief and financial insecurity gripped thousands of those most immediately affected, and the nation was in a state of shock.

Quickly, however, we rallied as a nation and we were supported by the sympathy and cooperation of nations throughout the world. Our focus was first on victims and their families. An unprecedented outpouring of volunteers and charity underscored our unity as a nation. Faith has been awakened in many hearts.

The Church has responded magnificently. In the name and in the person of Christ we have been present to mourn the dead, to comfort the sorrowing and to provide support and counseling. We have repatriated the scapegoating of persons because of religion, ethnic origin or nationality. We have also reflected on the challenges posed by these attacks in the light of Catholic teaching. The President did so on September 11 with the support of the Administrative Board. Then in session, he has done so subsequently, and many of us have addressed September 11 in messages to the Churches we serve.

On Monday, this Body voted overwhelmingly to consider a special Pastoral Message in the aftermath of September 11.

Your International Policy Committee anticipated this action. Special subcommittee has worked carefully and diligently to develop the brief pastoral message we shared with you on Monday. We have tried to develop a statement which is faithful, balanced and focused. It offers a moral framework, not a long series of specific judgements. It lifts up key challenges, but does not seek to answer all the questions we face. It builds on the previous policies of our Conference and many statements from bishops across the country.

In your comments, many of you have affirmed the purpose, substance, balance and tone of our proposal. And you have helped to improve it. We received 119 amendments from 33 bishops. The Committees´ response to these amendments is based on several key criteria:

Do they help us articulate and apply the traditional teaching of the Church on the use and limits of military force?

Do they reflect the policies of our Conference?

Do they help us keep this document relatively short and focused?

Do they help us articulate a three part response: resolve to defend the common good, restraint in insisting that traditional moral norms apply and a long term focus on the roots of terrorism?

Using [these] criteria we were able to accommodate 67 of your amendments in whole or part. These Group I amendments include a new and better title, a clearer description of what the document is and isn´t, helpful clarifications on several key points, an unambiguous call to end the Iraqi embargo, a more specific reference to the potential starvation in Afghanistan this winter and other matters raised by bishops. Many were relatively minor editorial improvements. I am happy to report even with these changes we still have a focused message of less than 15 pages.

However, we have not been able to recommend inclusion of 52 amendments for one of three reasons:

Some were redundant or they wished to significantly expand a topic and thereby unduly lengthen the document or disproportionately emphasize one topic over others.

Some would have us make specific judgements on rapidly changing events or would go into more detail on specific issues that we have treated before and in greater depth in other statements.

Some would change the direction and substance in fundamental ways. While the text acknowledges the respected place of a principled and complete commitment to non-violence in our tradition, these amendments would replace traditional Catholic teaching on the legitimacy and limits on the use of force with a corporate commitment to pacifism that I do not believe is where we are as a body. On the other hand, others amendments would have had us tone down or minimize our teaching that the use of force must be limited by traditional moral norms.

As a Conference, I do not believe we can say that any use of military force must be ruled out — no matter what the attack, what the loss, what the future threat. On the other hand, we cannot ever become comfortable with the use of military force, supporting any action, at any cost, for any purpose. Our Catholic tradition with its presumption against the use of force, which can be overridden only as a last resort to protect the common good, is the way we find our way through these difficult days. It gives us a principled way to discern and decide what is right and what is wrong. This message as developed by our committee and refined by these amendments, reflects this complicated, but consistent call to protect human life, seek justice and pursue peace in a dangerous world. I hope the debate which follows will help us keep this balance, focus and fidelity to traditional Catholic teaching.


I hope that in a modest but not insignificant way this statement will help and people and impact public policy.

I want to thank members of the International Policy Committee who have worked so diligently. Allow me to thank our special subcommittee:

Dr. Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University, Chair

Bishop John Ricard

Bishop William Murphy

Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim

Dr. Maryann Cusimano-Love of Catholic University of America

Amb. Anthony Quainton now of the Center for National Policy

Dr. John Steinbruner of the University of Maryland

I wish to express appreciation to staff who have worked so hard (John Carr, Jerry Powers Fran Horner and Ramona Looney).

Finally, I want to thank the bishops for what you have done and will continue to do to help our country respond and respond in the right ways to those terrible attacks and their continuing challenges.

[statement distributed by U.S. bishops´ conference]

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