Some of the brutal reality of the U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan emerged when footage from the killing of two Reuters photographers in 2007 was leaked on the Internet in April. Actual combat is never going to look pretty, and this footage, depicting the brutal ending of the lives of more than a dozen people, is certainly hard to watch. The U.S. crew mistook the camera and tripod of the photographers for weapons, and many of the people gunned down when the helicopter crew got a green light to engage were clearly unarmed. When a van pulled up later to retrieve the wounded, the assault continued—this time killing the would-be good Samaritans and seriously wounding two children. It is all too easy to second-guess decisions in the field, but it is hard to view this gun video without wondering if current rules of engagement are sufficiently protecting innocent lives in complicated combat zones.
No one should be under the illusion that the killing of noncombatants is completely preventable, and the U.S. command should be commended for its many efforts to keep civilian deaths to a minimum. This episode is a gruesome reminder that attention to that commitment cannot falter for a moment. Also troubling about this incident, however, are apparent attempts to divert investigations by withholding or tampering with evidence. The United States will not win the hearts and minds of the Afghan or Iraqi people if it does not reconsider its engagement policy in light of these unwarranted deaths. The government cannot but sacrifice the support of the American people when it attempts to cover up such failures.
A Sacramental Response
In his homily on April 15, Pope Benedict XVI spoke frankly. “We Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word penance, which seemed too harsh to us. Now…we see that being able to do penance is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to do penance, that is, to recognize what is mistaken in our life, to open oneself to forgiveness, to prepare oneself for forgiveness, to allow oneself to be transformed. The pain of penance, that is to say of purification and of transformation, this pain is grace....”
To heal the church in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, the sacrament of reconciliation provides a model for a way forward. The sacrament includes several steps: first, confession. This has already begun in dioceses where bishops admitted their sins to victims, in liturgies or through pastoral letters and personal meetings. Second is a firm purpose of amendment. The U.S. bishops’ Dallas charter is a step in this direction. But then comes penance. Oddly, this step has been avoided by many church leaders seeking forgiveness from the people of God. Only a few bishops have resigned. There have also been calls for penance to be undertaken by the entire church, like the pope’s in his letter to Irish Catholics. But why should lay Catholics and innocent members of the clergy do penance.
Authentic penance must be done especially by abusive priests and the bishops who allowed the abuse to continue. That would mean more resignations, more public acts of penance and more of these bishops retiring to pray for victims of abuse. Only then can the church approach the ultimate goal of the sacrament—forgiveness. For in the present crisis the offending members of the clergy and hierarchy need the forgiveness of the whole people of God.
Canada’s annual seal hunt has begun. This year the hunt’s quota has increased by 50,000 to a total of 333,000. By the 1970s, unrestrained hunting had reduced the population of harp seals to an estimated two million, and quotas were introduced. The harp seal is the most targeted species, and 90 percent are pups less than three months old. The European Union has voiced concerns about inhumane aspects of the hunt. Killing methods include clubbing, netting and shooting. The U.S. Humane Society cites veterinary studies that “show high levels of cruelty at the slaughter, including wounded seals left to suffer in agony...impaled on metal hooks, and live seals cut open.”
In addition, because of climatic warming less ice is forming on Canada’s east coast, threatening seal birthing areas. When the ice is too thin, pups are forced into the open water before they are old enough to survive. As a consequence of these diverse pressures, seals represent yet another species whose survival is imperilled.
Now the fur industry has slowed because of the recession. Pelts that brought $100 a few years ago now sell for only $15 each. Campaigns against seal hunting have also played a part in the slowdown. But the hardest blow to the industry may be the European Union’s ban on products from commercial sealing. Finalized in July 2009, the ban takes effect next August. The European Union is to be applauded for taking this step.