WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference expressed his brother prelates’ regrets over the Iraq crisis but hoped for limited damage from the war.
“Our nation is on the brink of war. We worked and prayed and hoped that war would be avoided,” said Bishop Wilton Gregory in a statement Wednesday, hours before U.S.-led hostilities against Saddam Hussein commenced.
“The task now,” the bishop said, “is to work and pray and hope that war’s deadly consequences will be limited, that civilian life will be protected, that weapons of mass destruction will be eliminated, and that the people of Iraq will soon enjoy a peace with freedom and justice.”
Bishop Gregory’s statement, which is based on a framework adopted earlier in the day by the U.S. bishops’ Administrative Committee, addressed several concerns:
— Prayer and solidarity: Calling prayer and solidarity “our first obligation” at this time, it urges prayer for the “men and women who risk their lives in the service of our nation, their families and loved ones …, and the chaplains who serve them; the long-suffering people of Iraq, and those who labor to provide for their humanitarian needs.”
— Iraq: The statement recalls the bishops’ consistent call on the Iraqi leadership to “abandon efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and to meet its obligations to destroy such weapons.”
— Moral concerns: Bishop Gregory noted that the bishops’ “moral concerns and questions, as well as the call of the Holy Father to find alternatives to war, are well known and reflect prudential judgments about the application of traditional Catholic teaching on the use of force in this case.”
He reaffirmed concern about “the precedents that could be set and the possible consequences of a major war of this type in perhaps the most volatile region of the world.”
— Conscience: Bishop Gregory acknowledged that “war has serious consequences, and so could failure to act” and “that people of good will can and do differ” on these matters.
He quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the vocation of military service, expressing support for “those who have accepted the call to serve their country in a conscientious way in the armed services” and “for those who pursue conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection.”
— The moral conduct of war: Bishop Gregory stated that “every effort must be made to ensure that efforts to reduce the risk to U.S. forces are limited by careful judgments of military necessity and the duty to respect the lives and dignity of Iraqi civilians, who have suffered so much already from war, repression, and a debilitating embargo.”
“In all our actions in war, including assessments of whether ‘collateral damage’ is proportionate,” he added, “we must value the lives and livelihood of Iraqi civilians as we would the lives and livelihood of our own families and our own citizens.”
— Humanitarian concerns: Bishop Gregory said that “even amidst the chaos of war, every effort must be made to prevent internal strife and to protect vulnerable groups. We are deeply concerned that adequate resources and effective plans be put in place to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, which, at least in the short term, will be worsened by war.”
He also said that the United States must accept “the long-term responsibility to help Iraqis build a just and enduring peace in their country, while also addressing the many serious unresolved issues in the Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Finally, the statement called on Catholics to join John Paul II to “dedicate this Lenten season to reflection, prayer and fasting that the trials and tragedy of war will soon be replaced by a just and lasting peace.”
According to the U.S. bishops’ Web site, the statement builds on Bishop Gregory’s letter to President George W. Bush in September, the statement of the full body of bishops in November, and Bishop Gregory’s statement last month.