Signs of the Times

War on Terrorism Unjustifiable, Say Some Catholic Leaders

The current war on terrorism is unjustifiable, says a group of leaders from Catholic institutions and religious congregations. Using the criteria laid down in the Catholic just war theory, they say, “the strong moral requirement of immunity for noncombatants and the inadmissibility of indiscriminate attacks on innocent people are violated in the ‘collateral damage’ suffered by innocent city dwellers in Kunduz, Kabul, Kandahar and elsewhere in Afghanistan.”

In their judgment, “over two months of daily bombings with all their attendant human and material costs, including tremendous military expenditures that rob the poor, are not proportionate to our legitimate right to seek out and bring before an international court of justice those responsible for the September 11th attacks.” The statement says, “many of the effects of the bombing on noncombatants are withheld from the U.S. public by the military or a self-censored media.” According to the statement, Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire has documented at least 3,767 civilian casualties in nine weeks of the U.S. air war.


The war on terrorism will not be successful, says the statement. The signers argue that “the overwhelming military response fuels anger and hatred, and serves to inspire new recruits to the causes espoused by those who commit acts of terror.” The statement calls for an end to the war and the rhetoric of war, and asks that the perpetrators of the criminal attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon be sought out and brought before a tribunal like the World Court at the Hague through an international police investigation.

The signers are leaders in Catholic organizations such as Pax Christi USA, the Center of Concern, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Network and the Maryknoll Sisters, although the names are listed for identification purposes only and do not necessarily represent the views of their institutions.

‘Commitment to Peace’ Planned for Assisi

Pope John Paul II and religious leaders will sign “a common commitment to peace” at the end of their daylong meeting in Assisi in late January. The statement will be read in English, Arabic and Italian during a ceremony on Jan. 24 outside the Basilica of St. Francis, the Vatican said. The January interreligious gathering will include speeches by the pope and “testimonials to peace” by representatives of Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and followers of traditional African religions. A Vatican official said on Dec. 19 that it was too soon to make any reasonable estimate of the number of religious leaders who will participate.

Holy Land Christian Leaders Call on Politicians to Halt Violence

The leaders of Christian churches in the Holy Land called on political leaders to halt all violence in the region. In a Christmas message released on Dec. 18, the religious leaders said they deplored the violence that has engulfed the region as being “contrary to the will of God.” The Holy Land has been beset by violence and injustice, marked by a “total disregard for the dignity and worth of humankind,” the church leaders said. “We renew our appeal to political leaders in this Holy Land to stop all kinds of violence,” they said. “Let us start a new era of justice and peace that sees both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, within recognized borders, enjoying safety and tranquility,” they said.

Feminist Says Being Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Not a Contradiction

An official with Feminists for Life of New York told an audience in Syracuse that pro-life feminists’ opposition to abortion is not out of line with their support for women’s issues. Christine Fadden Fitch, the organization’s director of public affairs, introduced about 150 members of Friends for Life Inc. to a breed of feminism that follows the pro-life principles of the suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Feminists for Life was founded in 1972 by former members of the National Organization for Women after NOW adopted a pro-abortion stance. Friends for Life is a nonprofit educational community research organization devoted to protecting all life from conception to natural death. Fitch said the women’s rights movement, which began more than 120 years ago in central New York, never advocated abortion as a road to women’s empowerment until the mid-1960’s.

Czech Church Praises Veto of Legislation Limiting Churches

Czech church leaders have praised President Vaclav Havel for vetoing legislation that would prevent churches from operating hospitals and charities. But a church spokesman predicted that legislators would press ahead with the legislation, which would allow state officials to block internal church decisions and impede church-run charities. “The two parties favoring this bill enjoy an absolute majority and are not likely to modify it,” said the Rev. Daniel Herman, spokesman for the Czech bishops’ conference. “The resentments, prejudices and lies they learned under Communist rule are still in the air here.”

The legislation would give government officials the right to approve the opening of places of worship and formation of religious communities. It also would raise the membership threshold for churches seeking legal status and would require all profits from church-owned enterprises to be used solely for religious purposes. Pavel Dostal, the minister of culture, said Caritas, a church charitable agency, would be denied legal status under the new law, since it was not a “religious association aimed at spiritual development.” Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague said the proposed law was an attempt to “isolate the church from public activity” by ensuring that it was “concerned only with its own members.”

Cardinal Maida Visits Detroit Mosque on Day of Peace

Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit addressed worshippers at a Detroit-area mosque on Dec. 14, the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and a day named by Pope John Paul II for Catholics worldwide to fast and pray for peace. “The Catholic Church throughout the world unites itself in solidarity with Muslim believers everywhere in special prayer, fasting and almsgiving for world peace and for the healing of all who suffer the effects of war and terrorism,” Cardinal Maida said at the Islamic Center of America, the oldest mosque in the Detroit area. Before the midday service, Cardinal Maida met with Imam Hassam Al-Qazwini, leader of the center. The two leaders entered the overflowing mosque side by side.

Earlier in the month, on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, the cardinal presented Greek Orthodox Bishop Nicholas of Detroit with a silver box containing what are believed to be relics of St. Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of children and the basis of the Santa Claus legend. “This is a gift that is a tremendous surprise and one that brings great joy to us,” Bishop Nicholas said during a service on Dec. 5 at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Troy, Mich.

Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue Studies Ministry, Communion

The U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue began developing a joint statement on “The Church as Koinonia: Its Structures and Ministries” at a meeting in Baltimore from Dec. 6 to 9. The dialogue, currently in its tenth round, is co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Baltimore meeting was the seventh in the current round, devoted to studying how the roles of ordained ministries and the structures of church unity in the Catholic and Lutheran communions relate to the way they understand and practice koinonia. During the session, participants reviewed papers written as first drafts of the different sections of a planned joint statement, analyzed the wording and discussed ways of refining the papers and organizing them into the final statement.

Koinonia, a Greek biblical word taken over into English, is often translated in theological contexts as “communion.” It also can be translated, in various contexts, as fellowship, partnership, a close mutual relationship, sharing in, contribution or gift. It has become an increasingly important focus of bilateral and multilateral ecumenical discussions over the past decade.

The U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, which began in 1965, has produced agreed statements on a number of topics including Scripture, ministry, authority and justification by faith.

Military Archbishop Urges Patience and Discernment

As the war against terrorism proceeds in Afghanistan and beyond, leaders must assure that it is carried out “with patience and discernment,” the head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said in a Christmas message to Catholics in the military. “A military victory in Afghanistan should not prompt the illusion that we can take on the vast world of terrorism in the same way we are now doing,” said Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, citing “significant terrorist cells” in such nations as Iraq, Sudan, Israel, Somalia and the Philippines. “Each situation varies greatly—historically, politically, religiously, militarily,” he added.

Irish Bishops Welcome Proposed Referendum on Abortion

Irish bishops said a proposed constitutional referendum on abortion was “a significant improvement on the current unsatisfactory situation.” The bishops said in a statement released on Dec. 12 that Ireland’s current abortion law is “profoundly flawed.” Under a 1992 Irish Supreme Court ruling, abortion is allowed in Ireland in certain rare circumstances—for example, if the woman is threatening suicide. “It is for this reason that we have called on many occasions for a new referendum, which would effectively overturn this judgment and restore adequate protection for the unborn,” the bishops said.

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