November 14, 2007
Catholic Bishops on Iraq
by Mike McManus
America's Catholic bishops raised "grave moral concerns" about the Iraq
war before it began. They were "highly skeptical" of the concept of a
"preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent."
So it was no surprise that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
addressed the "dangerous political stalemate in Iraq" this week.
However, they fashioned language which respected both sides of the
issue, and said something fresh.
"We are alarmed by the political and partisan stalemate in Washington.
Some policymakers 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
That is an apt description of the roots of today's poisonous political
climate in Washington. Democrats want to pull out quickly but appear to
be oblivious of the danger of a rapid draw down of troops. The White
House has found success in the troop surge that has reduced casualties
and is loathe to make any troop reductions. Even Republican presidential
candidates seeking primary voter support seem stuck like tar babies
unable to offer new ideas.
Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane and President of Catholic bishops
issued a "Call for Bipartisan Cooperation." While admitting that the
bishops have no "specific competence in political, economic and military
strategies," he said he spoke from a moral tradition of Catholic
teaching on war and peace.
He urged 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
Skylstad put it differently, "Our nation must now focus more on the
ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention." He raised moral
questions for national leaders to answer:
"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?"
The Democratic Presidential candidates come closest to outlining a
"responsible transition" from Iraq. However, Wednesday's Washington
Post examined the top four candidates positions on the issue, with this
headline, "Democrats' Bold Statements on Ending Iraq War Don't Square
For example, Sen. Hillary Clinton has said, "If this President does not
get us out of Iraq, when I am president, I will." The Post called that
an "obvious exaggeration" since she only proposes to begin a phased
withdrawal of troops but has not been specific on the number of troops
she would pull out, or the timetable. "Clinton is trying to have it both
Catholic bishops urged the U.S. to initiate a comprehensive political,
diplomatic and economic strategy that would include collaboration with
other nations, including Syria and Iran, and asked the U.S. to "advance
a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians."
Bishop Skylstad also focused on a neglected policy priority, the
"suffering of the Christian community." Iraqi Christians, many of whom
are Chaldean Catholics, are caught in a squeeze between Sunni and Shiite
Muslims, persecuted so severely that high percentages are among the two
million Iraqis who have fled Iraq or the two million more who fled their
homes for safer areas within Iraq.
Not all bishops agreed with the consensus of opposition to the war.
Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki rose to say, "Our statements
tend to focus on American action and American restraint, yet I don't
know if we're taking into account Islamic jihadism. I'd like our
statements to reflect a little more balance to reflect that reality."
Such dissent may come as a surprise to Catholics, and especially to
Protestants who view Catholic bishops as monolithic, acting on orders
from Rome. However, in the 26 years I have covered these meetings, I am
struck by the healthy debate I witness.
The bishops are also careful not to endorse any candidates or party.
Their opposition to abortion is passionate "to protect the weakest in
our midst - innocent unborn children," and appears to be supportive of
Republicans. However, their opposition to war and support of
initiatives to help "families and children overcome poverty" leans
toward Democrats. They support comprehensive immigration reform
championed by Bush but opposed by most Congressional Republicans. Their
positions are thoughtful and nuanced.
"Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance
with God's truth," they said in a recent statement on "Faithful
Citizenship." They recognized that the "responsibility to make choices
in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly
Catholic bishops take their role as moral teachers seriously.
2019: Column 1965: Protecting Girls from Suicide
Eight Reasons To Marry
Ten Myths of Marriage
The Ministry of Marriage 911
The Message by Eugene Peterson
Green New Deal
Christian Persecution Rising Abroad
Gun Control Laws Needed
The Worst Valentine:
Pornography: A Public Health Hazard
Sextortion Kills Teens
Cohabitation: A Risky Business
same sex marriage,
abortion and infanticide,