Signs of the Times

U.S. Bishops Oppose Pre-Emptive, Unilateral Force Against Iraq

Any pre-emptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq cannot be justified at this time, the U.S. bishops told President Bush. The bishops urged Bush to step back from the brink of war and help lead the world to act together to fashion an effective global response to Iraq’s threats. In a letter to Bush, the bishops used Catholic just-war criteria to argue that unilateral strikes against Iraq would differ from the use of force against Afghanistan, which was part of a broader war against terrorism in response to attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

Given the precedents and risks involved, we find it difficult to justify extending the war on terrorism to Iraq, absent clear and adequate evidence of Iraqi involvement in the attacks of Sept. 11 or of an imminent attack of a grave nature, the bishops said. The letter, dated Sept. 13 of this year and released in Washington on Sept. 17, was signed by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, on behalf of the bishops’ administrative committee.


In the bishops’ letter, Bishop Gregory said the Catechism of the Catholic Church limits the just-war criterion of just cause to cases in which the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations is lasting, grave and certain. He asked: Is there clear and adequate evidence of a direct connection between Iraq and the attacks of Sept. 11 or clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature?... Is it wise to dramatically expand traditional moral and legal limits on just cause to include preventive or pre-emptive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? Should not a distinction be made between efforts to change unacceptable behavior of a government and efforts to end that government’s existence? He said the moral credibility of force depends on legitimate authority, and as such, decisions of such gravity require compliance with U.S. Constitutional imperatives, broad consensus within our own nation, and some form of international sanction, preferably by the U.N. Security Council.

He added that war against Iraq could result in dangerous and unpredictable effects upon Iraqi civilians and Middle East stability, in violation of the criteria of the probability of success and proportionality. Would...force succeed in thwarting serious threats or, instead, provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent? he wrote. How would another war in Iraq impact the civilian population, in the short and long term? How many more innocent people would suffer and die, or be left without homes, without basic necessities, without work?

Would the United States and international community commit to the arduous, long-term task of ensuring a just peace or would a post-Saddam [Hussein] Iraq continue to be plagued by civil conflict and repression and continue to serve as a destabilizing force in the region? he asked. Would war against Iraq detract from our responsibility to help build a just and stable order in Afghanistan and undermine the broader coalition against terrorism?

Nearly Half of Americans Unchurched, Census Finds

Just over half of all Americans have organizational ties to a religious body, but nearly as many remain without a church home, according to the results of a religious census conducted every 10 years. The study, Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States: 2000, was released on Sept. 18 by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies and the Glenmary Research Center. The data showed that 141.4 million Americans50.2 percent of the total U.S. population of 281.4 millionwere associated in the year 2000 with one of the 149 religious bodies participating in the study, which for the first time included Muslims and some other non-Christian groups in its latest totals. Ten years ago, when the study was called Churches and Church Membership in the United States: 1990, about 55 percent of the U.S. population were affiliated with a religious congregation.

At 62 million, Catholics were the largest single denomination represented in the United States in 2000, although Protestants grouped together were more numerous at 66 million. Catholics also experienced one of the largest increases in membership, 16.2 percent. Only the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (19.3 percent), Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (18.6 percent) and Assemblies of God (18.5 percent) had larger increases since 1990. Most mainline Protestant denominations experienced declines.

The data for the study was gathered not by the U.S. Census Bureau, which dropped its question on religion in the 1950s over concerns about separation of church and state, but by the religious organizations themselves. Some groups, such as Jehovahs Witnesses, do not want to participate in the census and therefore are not counted. Some -- such as Buddhists, Hindus and certain Orthodox and black Baptist churches -- only provided information on the number of congregations, not the number of adherents.

The report found:

66 million Protestants in 222,000 congregations.
62 million Catholics in nearly 22,000 congregations.
6 million Jews in 3,727 congregations.
4 million Mormons in 12,000 congregations.
1.6 million Muslims in more than 1,000 congregations.
Nearly 1 million Eastern Christians, including Orthodox, in 2,000 congregations.
150,000 adherents to Eastern religions in 4,000 congregations.
180,000 Unitarian Universalists in 1,000 congregations.

Archbishop Carey Fears Anglican Split Over Sexuality Issues

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who is retiring as head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said he fears his church is reaching a crisis that may lead to a split. My concern is that our communion is being steadily undermined by dioceses and individual bishops taking unilateral action, usuallybut not alwaysin matters to do with sexuality, he said in his final presidential address to the Anglican Consultative Council on Sept. 16 in Hong Kong. This erosion of communion through the adoption of local options’ has been going on for some 30 years, but in my opinion is reaching crisis proportions today, said Archbishop Carey, set to retire on Oct. 31. This was driving the Anglican church toward serious fragmentation and the real possibility of two or, more likely, many more distinct Anglican bodies emerging, he added.

Vatican Fears Real Persecution’ in Russia

The Vatican sharply criticized the expulsion of a Polish priest from eastern Russia, saying the move has prompted fears of a real persecution against the Catholic Church. The same day, another Polish priest working in Russia was turned back at the Poland-Belarus border on his way back to his parish. At the Vatican, spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls expressed official disapproval at the expulsion and said the Vatican was using diplomatic channels to try to resolve the problem. The latest incidents bring to five the number of Catholic clergymen expelled from Russia this year.

In August, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended the visa denials in a letter to Pope John Paul II, saying they were normal measures adopted by a sovereign state regarding foreign citizens. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow said that when the Catholic Church was suppressed for decades of Communist rule, it could not train priests because its seminaries were closed. As a result, most priests who serve in Russia today are foreign missionaries. The unjustified refusal of visas to foreign priests gives rise to deep concernit throws into question the religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution, as well as the equality of all religions before the law, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said.

News Briefs

Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma said answers to a survey sent out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops indicated most dioceses have responded to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the bishops at their June meeting in Dallas. Names of bishops who are not responding to the national child protection charter will be released very soon, said Keating, chairman of the review board.

Pope John Paul II said Iraq’s promise to allow the unconditional return of U.N. weapons inspectors was good news and called for prayers for continued efforts to prevent war.

Mark Chopko, the general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lauded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for upholding an Indiana statute requiring that women who are contemplating abortion first have an informational, face-to-face meeting with a health care professional.

Zimbabwe’s bishops are seeking help from churches worldwide to end the country’s food crisis.

British bishops are calling for an overhaul of the country’s criminal justice system to ensure fair treatment for all, in particular ethnic minorities and the mentally ill.

NBC’s heavily touted new drama, American Dreams, will depict life in a Philadelphia Catholic family in the 1960’s, as change roils both church and society.

In a meeting with Germany’s new ambassador to the Holy See on Sept. 13, Pope John Paul II said the European Union must see its consolidation of political unity as a platform to promote human rights, development and peace in the rest of the world. He praised the German example 12 years ago of continuing to aid poorer countries despite the enormous economic and social challenges of its own reunification.

The Mexican bishops have proposed a national dialogue to determine how to integrate Indians into the general society now that a controversial indigenousrights law has been incorporated into the Constitution. In a statement on Sept. 9, they asked Indians to suggest concrete plans for improving their human and social development in today’s Mexico.

Stressing the importance of church unity, Pope John Paul II urged bishops to take seriously and implement Vatican and papal documents. Speaking to a group of Brazilian bishops on Sept. 14, he rejected occasionally voiced objections that he and Vatican offices were out of touch with local realities or that the steady flow of documents was too much for busy pastors to read.

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