Signs of the Times

Vatican: Both Sides to Blame for Failure to Disarm

Expressing deep pain at the start of U.S. military strikes on Iraq, the Vatican said both sides were to blame for failing to achieve the peaceful disarmament of Iraq under international law. In a statement on March 20, just hours after U.S. missiles began striking Baghdad, the Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said the Vatican lamented Iraq’s failure to comply with U.N. disarmament resolutions and other countries’ abandonment of international diplomacy to resolve the crisis peacefully.

The Holy See noted with deep pain the evolution of the latest events in Iraq, Navarro-Valls said. On one hand, it laments that the Iraqi government did not accept the resolutions of the United Nationsand an appeal from the pope himselfthat asked for a disarmament of the country, he said. On the other hand, it deplores that the path of negotiations under international law for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi drama was interrupted.


Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican equivalent of foreign minister, said the conflict would generate terrorism and seriously wound Christian-Muslim dialogue. Archbishop Tauran, speaking in late March to an Italian Catholic weekly magazine, also said the start of the war saddened him above all because of the contempt [shown] for international law.

This war will generate all the extremisms possible, including the Islamic one.... It will provoke terrorism, he said. And it will inflict a great wound on the dialogue between Christianity and Islam. Some Arab commentators, he noted, had already started describing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as another Christian crusade into Muslim lands. It is propaganda, but it would be very easy to start down this path, Archbishop Tauran said.

The archbishop said the war had seemed avoidable. We have everything we need to resolve controversies among people in a peaceful way, he said. I ask myself whether all the resources of international law were taken advantage of.

The archbishop said the Vatican’s outspoken opposition to the war had served a purpose, even if it ultimately failed to prevent the conflict. The Vatican must be the voice of conscience, he said, and it spoke out to defend the value of peace, life, human rights and above all the necessity of always making recourse to law.

People reflected. At a certain point, the decision belongs to those responsible in society. They must establish if the moment of diplomacy has ended and if that of force has arrived, he said. It is their responsibility, and their conscience is involved. We tried to illuminate the consciences of those responsible.

Military Archbishop: Troops Can Act in Good Conscience

The head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said in a letter to his priests on March 25 that members of the armed forces should carry out their duties in good conscience, because they can presume the integrity of the leaders who decided to go to war in Iraq.

Given the complexity of factors involved, many of which understandably remain confidential, it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments, and therefore to carry out their military duties in good conscience, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien said in the letter.

In the letter the archbishop said the moral justification for the invasion of Iraq likely will be debated long after the hostilities cease. It is to be hoped that all factors which have led to our intervention will eventually be made public and that the full picture of the Iraqi regime’s weaponry and brutality will shed helpful light upon our president’s decision, he wrote.

His letter went on to praise the commitment and values of those in the military and their families and to thank Catholic chaplains, priests at home and those on deployment for their work.

Earlier, in a Lenten message dated March 7, Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Diocese of St. George in Canton, Ohio, told the people of his Eastern-rite diocese that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin.

The three-page letter from Bishop Botean discussed the church’s just war theory and the sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that address the conditions for military force and the role of conscience when it comes to following unjust laws or...measures contrary to the moral order.

Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the person and way of Jesus Christ, Bishop Botean wrote. With moral certainty I say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just-war theory. Thus, any killing associated with it is unjustified and, in consequence, unequivocally murder. He said, Direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion. For the Catholics in the Eparchy [Diocese] of St. George, I hereby authoritatively state that such direct participation is intrinsically and gravely evil and therefore absolutely forbidden.

Religious Leaders, Organizations Respond to U.S. War on Iraq

U.S. Catholic bishops and other religious leaders across the country called for prayers for civilians and troops affected by the war against Iraq, for guidance and wisdom for the nation’s leaders and most of all for peace. The church leaders made their pleas in statements released before and after President Bush’s announcement on March 19 that the war on Iraq had begun.

The task now is to work and pray and hope that war’s deadly consequences will be limited, that civilian life will be protected, that weapons of mass destruction will be eliminated and that the people of Iraq will soon enjoy peace with freedom and justice, said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

War is both undesirable and unnerving, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia said. Vivid memories of the anxiety, devastation, suffering and loss of human life...compel us to do everything possible to find a peaceful solution.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago urged Catholics to pray for an end to the war and for a lasting peace. Such a peace is founded on the desire to protect the innocent...on respect for all peoples and religions...and on the political will to establish structures of cooperation, he said.

The World Council of Churches’ general secretary, the Rev. Konrad Raiser, called the U.S. attacks immoral, illegal and ill-advised, politically dangerous and culturally unwise, because they will confirm and aggravate stereotypes and...add to an image of the West marked by colonialism and crusades. The global church community is overwhelmingly against the war, he said.

Caritas Treating Injured in Baghdad, Assisting Displaced

Caritas Iraq has been treating injured civilians on the streets of Baghdad and transporting those who are seriously wounded to local hospitals, according to a British Catholic aid agency. The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, or Cafod, said on March 25 that staff from the Caritas Iraq health centers was providing assistance to the injured and their families and was issuing first-aid kits and medical supplies to local schools and those in need. In Basra, in southern Iraq, medical supplies provided by Caritas Iraq have been used to treat nearly 400 people, mostly women and children injured in the bombing on March 22-23.

Jesuit Provincials Issue Statement on Abortion

The provincial superiors of the 10 provinces of the Society of Jesus in the United States released an eight-page document on March 25 stating their opposition to abortion and reaffirming the sanctity of all human life. The document was written to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion on demand legal throughout the United States. We fervently declare our opposition to abortion and our support for the unborn, the U.S. Jesuit leadership, writes. In treating this delicate and controversial topic, we hope to provide our Jesuit brothers, colleagues, parishioners and students with the spiritual leadership and ethical guidance they expect from us. In their statement, the provincials survey Catholic faith tradition regarding the right to life and the distinctive Jesuit approach to issues around human life and offer reflections on the task of public dialogue about abortion in a pluralistic society. The full text of the statement, Standing for the Unborn, is at

News Briefs

In a message on March 25 to military chaplains attending a Vatican-sponsored course on humanitarian law, Pope John Paul II said the worldwide peace protests against the Iraqi war showed that a large part of humanity rejects war as a means to resolve conflicts between countries. The pope said Christian military chaplains had the duty to show that even in the midst of the harshest fighting it was possible and necessary to respect the dignity of military adversaries and civilian victims. He also encouraged military chaplains, beyond their strictly religious role, to help educate soldiers in the ethical values that underlie humanitarian law.

During a meeting in Rome on March 24, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America told Pope John Paul II he hoped Lutherans and Catholics could have limited, interim eucharistic sharing even before they achieved full unity.

The Canon Law Society of America has issued a 47-page guide to following church law in implementing the U.S. bishops’ norms on sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
11 years 11 months ago
I write first to thank America for its compassionate and clear editorial voice, as demonstrated in the issue of April 7 and previous issues, as well as for its openness to the many perspectives shaping the church and world today.

Second, I write to comment on the military archbishop’s letter to priests cited in Signs of the Times on April 7. The archbishop’s letter was quoted as saying that armed forces personnel could carry out their “military duties in good conscience” in the pre-emptive war on Iraq under a presumption regarding the “integrity of our leadership and its judgment.” Given the “complexity of factors” that the archbishop noted, not the least of which have been consistent Vatican statements opposing the war, such guidance was certainly warranted. I did not read, or it was not cited, accompanying counsel from the archbishop for those Catholics in the military who in good conscience believe the Iraq war to be unjust. Embedded as he and the military chaplaincy are in the military establishment, it may be too much to expect statements from him regarding Catholic conscientious objection to this war. Nevertheless, I hope such support is being offered to Catholic military personnel at an individual or pastoral level.

Still, some clear, public pronouncement from hierarchical leadership regarding Catholic conscientious objection to this war, however controversial for the U.S. Catholic Church, was clearly just as warranted by the complex factors and Vatican statements as the statement quoted giving personnel the all clear for war. As for a presumption regarding the integrity and judgment of the American political leadership, such presumption is never absolute in a democracy like ours, as it would no doubt be in countries like Iraq, Iran and North Korea, to name just three. When any individual service person judges in good conscience that a military action is wrong, no such presumption can exist.


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