Iraq Withdrawal Needs Responsibility, Says Prelate

Cautions Against Moving Out Too Rapidly or Too Slowly

BALTIMORE, Maryland, NOV. 13, 2007 ( The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference is calling for what he dubbed a “responsible transition” to resolve the problem of Iraq.

In an address today to bishops gathered at the conference’s fall general assembly in Baltimore, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, said, “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.”

Bishop Skylstad lamented the political stalemate in Iraq, which he said finds a parallel in Washington.

“Some policy makers seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the reality and failures in Iraq and the imperative for new directions,” he said. “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.

“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.”

The Washington prelate said the nation “must now focus more on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention.”

He explained, “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?”


Bishop Skylstad encouraged the United States to work with other nations to bring a lasting solution: “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.”

He also noted the need to support the millions of refugees and displaced people in and around Iraq.

“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 self-determination suggests that our nation should reiterate our pledge not to seek permanent military bases in Iraq, nor control over Iraqi oil resources,” he said.

Echoing the pleas of Church leaders, including the Pope, on behalf of the situation of Christians in Iraq, Bishop Skylstad noted, “The suffering of the Christian community has a particular claim on our hearts and consciences.” But, he added, “We recognize that Christians are not alone in their plight and we reiterate our concern for the whole of the Iraqi people.”

The 73-year-old prelate further affirmed that the stability of Iraq is related to the stability of the whole Middle East.

“This is why U.S. leadership to advance a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians is critical,” he stated. “The continuing failure to achieve the vision of two states living side by side in peace and justice contributes to regional instability.”


Bishop Skylstad also turned his attention to U.S. military personnel. “We support those who risk their lives in the service of our nation and recognize their generous commitment. U.S. policy must take into account the growing costs and consequences of a continued occupation on military personnel, their families and our nation. There is a moral obligation to deal with the human, medical, mental health and social costs of military action.”

And he defended the right to conscientious objection: “Our nation must also make provisions for those who in conscience exercise their right to conscientious objection or selective conscientious objection.”

Bishop Skylstad said that each course of action in Iraq “should be weighed in light of the traditional moral principle of ‘probability of success.'”

“In other words,” he said, “will the action contribute to a “responsible transition” and withdrawal as soon as appropriate and possible? This principle requires our nation’s leaders to be more realistic about the difficult situation in Iraq and more concerned about the likely consequences of a withdrawal that is too rapid or not rapid enough.”

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