Signs of the Times

Cardinals Give Measured Support to Retaliatory Attacks

American cardinals, speaking separately, have given measured support for the retaliatory strikes launched by American and British forces against military targets and suspected terrorist camps in Afghanistan. This is a just war, declared Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, not a holy war or a war of religions. In a statement on Oct. 9 from Rome, where he was attending the Synod of Bishops, he asked God to help us to overcome war and violence and to establish your law of love and justice.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington called the military campaign a necessary response but one he prayed would not take innocent life and would be guided by principles of morality and human dignity. Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston said it was understandable, given the threat to the common good posed by terrorists and their supporters. He called it measured and carefully targeted.


Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia said, Our government has the right and duty to defend its people against the evil aggression of terrorists against our nation. He said he is confident the goal is justice, not vengeance. And, according to Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit, a military necessity now presents itself to the people of the free world. He cited mass terrorism and the threat of more attacks.

Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, in a statement on Oct. 7, said that while celebrating Mass in Rome for the Sisters of St. Brigid, he invited the assembly to join me in praying for the safety of the armed forces of the United States and its allies and for a speedy and decisive victory. From comments he heard after the Mass, Cardinal Egan added, I sensed that all wholeheartedly supported the decision of President Bush and his administration.

Cardinal William J. Keeler of Baltimore said, We certainly hope that civilians don’t suffer and that the innocent don’t suffer in Afghanistan. The cardinal reported that the terrorist attacks and the U.S. military response were prominent issues of discussion among synod participants, who were showing great sympathy for the United States. He said a number of bishops were struck by the fact that, apparently for the first time in history, humanitarian aid was being provided to the people of a country even as military targets were being hit.

In his statement, Cardinal George added, It is for all of us to understand the reasons for the deep resentment against the United States by many, especially the resentment caused by the inability to resolve the way in which Israelis and Palestinians can live together in justice and in peace.

Cardinal McCarrick said he was praying for military personnel involved in the strikes. In his statement on Oct. 7, he said he also was praying that our nation’s goals of punishing the guilty and destroying this network of evil may be successfully accomplished, that no innocent people would be killed and that the U.S. action be guided by the principles of morality and human dignity.

Cardinal Bevilacqua, also in a statement on Oct. 7, said he was convinced that those making momentous military decisions in this war against international terrorists are seekers of justice and peace, not of vengeance. It will be lamentable if more lives are lost, he added. God is with us as we, with other allied nations, seek to defend the common good of our nation as well as the international common good and peace throughout the world. We must believe that good will be victorious over evil.

In his statement on Oct. 8, Cardinal Law said, However necessary and justified military force may be, its use is always regrettable. Our goal as a nation must be for a peaceful, just and stable world. He identified Afghanistan, the Middle East and Sudan as three places where we should also make every diplomatic effort to encourage a peaceful and just resolution. He said the current military action must continue to be limited.

Cardinal Maida, also in a statement on Oct. 8, said the retaliatory bombings were provoked by acts of mass terrorism and by the threat of more indiscriminate attacks. He recalled principles of Catholic just war teaching, including proportionality; noncombatant immunity (meaning civilian populations cannot be targeted); and right intention, which means the aim of political and military leaders must be peace with justice.

Support for the air strikes also came from Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He told CNS on Oct. 8 in Rome that the attacks seemed appropriate and measured and that the United States needed to take this military action to end the operations of Osama bin Laden.

In a separate statement on Oct. 9, Bishop Fiorenza said, Military action is always regrettable, but it may be necessary to protect the innocent or to defend the common good. He praised the president for trying to carry out a wise, just and effective response, which was what the U.S. bishops’ conference had called for in the wake of the terrorist attacks. I commend the steps you have taken to formulate a response using diplomatic, economic and humanitarian, as well as military means, wrote the bishop. I continue to support your efforts to insure that military action, while always regrettable, will be designed and undertaken to avoid civilian casualties. As we seek to defend innocent people, measures to avoid jeopardizing the lives of other innocent people are both necessary and important,

At press time, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and the pope had made no specific comments on the U.S. air strikes. An informed Vatican official, who asked not to be identified, said it was important that the United States had emphasized this would be an attack against terrorism, not Islam. How Muslims react now is going to vary, depending on circumstances, he said. I think the majority of Muslims accept the idea of some kind of military action to prevent new attacks. But certainly, if there are many civilian victims, this could provoke a negative reaction, even among people who would accept a limited action, the official said. It’s also important to realize that to eradicate terrorism, we have to go to the causes. Many people are now recognizing that if justice is brought to the situations in Palestine and Iraq, terrorism will not have a terrain in which to grow, he said. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in a front-page report on the retaliation, emphasized that the air strikes were intended to be a limited operation of international police-keeping with well-defined targets and not a war against the people of Afghanistan or against Islam.

Pax Christi Asks U.S. to Turn Back’ From Its Own Terror’

Pax Christi USA said the United States was using terror as a component of its retaliatory strikes in Afghanistan. The Afghan people and others will find themselves caught between those who would use terror to destroy us, and our own nation that chooses to use terror to preserve us, Pax Christi said in a statement on Oct. 9. Still, we believe it is not too late for our country to turn back from the path of war, it added. We call on our leaders to focus their creative energies on a renewed commitment to building an international order based on principle rather than interest, on justice rather than right.

Pax Christi USA, the U.S. arm of the international Catholic peace organization, deplored the listing of civilian power plants as targets to be destroyed. This has become a standard aspect of the U.S. approach to disrupting’ an adversary’s capabilities, the statement said. The disruption’ of civilian power generation has an immediate and deadly effect on the most vulnerable noncombatants in the targeted society. We repeat our earlier call to President Bush to reject the targeting of civilian life-support systems regardless of their military utility.

Calling this the first war of the 21st century, Pax Christi said, As the twin fires of intolerance and hatred are fanned in the wake of each strike and counter-strike, it will be the most vulnerable among our people who will be threatenedbeginning with Arabs and Arab-looking immigrants and possibly including all immigrants. Pax Christi added, We pray for our own people who, because of the course chosen, will be called upon to support ever greater acts of violence that, by their nature, will embody the very worst of who we are as a people and a nation.

Shared Church Governance Emerges as Theme Early in Synod

Two weeks into a meeting of the world’s bishops, the issue of shared church governance emerged as the dominant theme, with more than two dozen bishops advocating more decision-making power at local levels. A number of English-speaking bishops asked for less Vatican control over liturgical translations. Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, questioned why more study had not been made of applying the principle of subsidiaritythat higher authorities should not make decisions lower authorities are competent to makein church contexts.

Another theme taking shape in the synod on the bishop’s role in the church, which is being held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 27, was the need for church leaders to be prophets of social justice. Several bishops cited the international embargo of Iraq, the situation of Palestinians and extreme poverty as injustices at the root of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11. Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao of Delhi, India, said the attacks drew the world’s attention but there is another kind of subtle, hidden, little-spoken-of terrorism. I mean the terrorism of an unjust economic system which grinds to death thousands of people every day.

The strongest applause during the first week followed a speech by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s doctrinal head, who said Catholics today spend too much time talking about the church and not enough about Jesus. The cardinal said the world had a thirst to know not our church problems but the fire that Jesus brought to earth. Only if we have become Christ’s contemporaries and this fire is alight within us will the Gospel announced touch the hearts of our contemporaries. The central problem of our time is the emptying of the historical figure of Jesus Christ, he said.

Cardinal Ratzinger said bishops should take more responsibility for correcting doctrinal error in their dioceses. If bishops have the courage to judge and decide with authority in this battle for the Gospel, the so-desired decentralization happens automatically, he said.

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