Signs of the Times

Growing List of Church Leaders, Groups Oppose War in Iraq

As the threat of war in Iraq loomed larger, Christian leaders and associations across the world urged restraint on the use of force and warned of a humanitarian disaster if the country is attacked. From Catholic bishops to interchurch coalitions, the pronouncements delivered a strong antiwar message and an invitation to give U.N. inspections and diplomacy more time to verify Iraqi disarmament. In January a number of Catholic bishops and bishops’ conferences echoed the U.S. bishops’ statement last fall, which said there was no justification for a pre-emptive U.S.-led attack on Iraq:

• Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York said U.N. weapons inspectors must determine that Iraq poses “a clear and present danger” before military action can be justified against the country.


• Bishop Giuseppe Betori, secretary of the Italian bishops’ conference, said on Jan. 28 that a preventive war against Iraq would be unjust, even if the United Nations approves military intervention. He said war can be justified only when it responds to an act of aggression. If Iraq is shown to possess weapons of mass destruction, experts would have to decide whether that is enough to constitute aggression, he said.

• Canadian Bishop Jacques Berthelet, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined with other Canadian church leaders on Jan. 17 in launching a movement called “Prepare for Peace in Iraq.” It called on the international community to “accompany the people of Iraq, not with more bombs and missiles, but with moral, political and material support.”

• German bishops said on Jan. 20 that war against Iraq must not be seen as an inevitable outcome of “the logic of escalation.” They said an attack on Iraq could be justified only as a response to an attack or to prevent the most serious crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

• There is not enough evidence to justify an attack against Iraq, and such a move might well provoke future terrorism, the Catholic primate of all Ireland, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, said in a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Jan. 14.

• Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City urged Western powers to choose the path of dialogue with Iraq, saying: “There does not have to be a war. It would be a disgrace to humanity if we go down this path.”

• Iraq’s Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad appealed to world leaders to prevent a war in his country, warning of the consequences to a civilian population that has already suffered under 12 years of economic sanctions. He suggested that concerns about Iraq’s oil reserves were the real reason for Western moves against the country.

• Pakistani Archbishop Lawrence Saldhana of Lahore joined with the country’s National Council of Churches in an open letter to President George W. Bush, urging the president to use “every alternative means” to avoid war with Iraq. The letter warned that hundreds of thousands of civilian lives may be lost and that the war could provoke a global backlash from those who see the Iraqi people as victims of aggression.

• In a statement on Jan. 28, the Philippine bishops’ conference appealed to their national leaders not to support a pre-emptive strike against Iraq even if the United Nations were to support military action. The bishops also urged the United Nations and Bush to “give time” to the U.N. inspection teams to do their work.

The threat of war prompted several cautionary statements from inter-Christian and interfaith associations around the world:

• Pax Christi International, in a letter to the 15-member U.N. Security Council on Jan. 27, urged it to resist pressure to go to war and to ensure more time for the inspection team to complete its work in Iraq. The Brussels-based Catholic organization warned that military intervention in Iraq could destabilize the Middle East and beyond and undermine the struggle against terrorism. At the same time, Pax Christi acknowledged the repressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime and called upon the Iraqi government to comply fully with international humanitarian law and all U.N. resolutions.

• In the United States, the National Council of Churches, after a humanitarian visit to Iraq in early January, said a pre-emptive war against Iraq would be immoral, illegal, devastating to civilians and counterproductive to the antiterrorism effort.

• The British chapter of the World Conference of Religions for Peace said Jan. 21 that a unilateral attack on Iraq would undermine U.N. authority and inflict immense suffering on all sides, as well as raise new problems in interreligious relations.

• The Scottish Interfaith Council, in a statement on Jan. 16 signed by representatives of eight religions, called on the U.S. and British governments to defer to the United Nations in decisions about military intervention in Iraq.

• In Germany on Jan. 14, Catholics and Protestants launched a “chain of prayer for peace” campaign with the theme: “Stop the War in Iraq Before It Begins.”

Tactics the Topic on Roe Anniversary

Will the fight against abortion in the United States be won through politics and judicial appointments, with a war of words or through the larger “culture war” for the hearts and minds of Americans? It will take all that and more, said representatives of the pro-life community as they gathered in Washington to mark the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that removed state restrictions on abortion.

“Thirty years after Roe is time for the pro-life movement to ask tough questions, to entertain fresh ideas and to consider new directions,” said Teresa R. Wagner, a former lobbyist with the National Right to Life Committee and editor of Back to the Drawing Board: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement, a collection of essays just published by St. Augustine’s Press. “It would be both untrue and overly dramatic to say that the pro-life movement has lost,” Wagner said in her preface to the book. “But we are not winning. And the sooner we face it, the sooner we change it.”

Wagner hosted a round-table discussion in Washington on Jan. 21 that focused on the political aspect of the fight and found little to cheer in the actions of either party over the past 30 years. “There are very few people running [for office] who will say, ‘I am opposed to abortion and I want to outlaw it,’” said Paul M. Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation. “Anybody who thinks we are going to substantially stop the killing of the unborn with this Senate is kidding himself.”

Representative Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, found signs of progress in the House, but said there is “no sense of urgency” among congressional leadership for ending abortion in this country. He had praise for the “40 or so pro-life Democrats” in the House who often provide the votes needed for pro-life legislation to succeed. “They make the difference, and pay a very dear price for their pro-life advocacy,” he said. Although he said he hoped the Democratic Party would “find its soul again” on the abortion issue, Smith also was critical of his own party for its “big tent” philosophy toward those who want to keep abortion legal. “We always give the platform to the opposite side, and sometimes too much, in my opinion,” he said.

The writer and columnist Joe Sobran was even more blunt in his criticism of the major political parties. “Both parties keep moving to the left,” he said, “and the lesser evil keeps getting more evil.”

Those who see the road to victory in the appointment by President Bush of a new member of the U.S. Supreme Court need to remember that the last seven of nine justices appointed were put on the court by Republican presidents, said Terence P. Jeffrey, senior editor of Human Events magazine.

Excommunication of ‘Ordained’ Women Confirmed

The Vatican’s doctrinal congregation said it had considered and rejected an appeal from seven “ordained” women who sought to have their excommunication decree overturned. In confirming the excommunication, the congregation said the women’s offense was particularly serious because it involved a schismatic bishop—thereby making the women “accomplices in schism”—and because “they formally and obstinately reject a doctrine which the church has always taught and lived” and which has been “definitively proposed” by the pope—namely, the inability of the church to ordain women.

News Briefs

• Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark decreed that any eulogies for deceased Catholics should take place outside the funeral Mass. The revised Order of Christian Funerals issued in 1989 allows for a “remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation” by a family member or friend. In his decree, Archbishop Myers said, “Any messages delivered by family members or friends shall be limited to the visitation—perhaps in a side chapel of the church before the eucharistic liturgy—or the graveside service and shall be ordinarily limited to a single person.”

• The board of directors of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (Fadica) has urged dioceses to disclose how much money they have spent on child sex abuse cases or risk losing the confidence of Catholics. Greater financial transparency is necessary as litigations mount and some church leaders talk of possible bankruptcies, said the board during the group’s meeting in Naples, Fla., on Jan. 24-25.

• St. John’s Seminary in the Los Angeles Archdiocese and St. John Seminary in the Boston Archdiocese will discontinue their undergraduate divisions at the end of the current academic year due to financial difficulties. The Los Angeles college has 82 students and the college in Boston has 29.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta arrives in Osorno, Chile, on June 14, beginning a pastoral mission to promote healing in the wake of a clerical sexual abuse crisis. (CNS photo/courtesy of Archdiocese of Santiago)
The pope’s decision gives the Maltese archbishop the lead role in the fight against abuse in the church and in the protection of minors.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 13, 2018
How do you pray? Do you kneel? Sit? Lie down?
James Martin, S.J.November 12, 2018
“This hypothesis—that the reality of personal sexual misconduct by bishops...was a factor which inclined some bishops not to vigorously pursue allegations of abuse among their clergy—I believe that this is a valid hypothesis.”
Kevin ClarkeNovember 12, 2018
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, center, leads the opening prayer Nov. 12 during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Also pictured are Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB, and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, general secretary. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
U.S. bishops tell the authors of a groundbreaking new book that they feel a duty to speak out on issues of the day, but they must tread carefully with a secular press and fallout from the sexual abuse crisis.