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BISHOPS-IRAQ (THIRD UPDATE) Nov-14-2007 (1,150 words) With photos posted Nov. 12 and 14. xxxn

Bishops finalize Iraq statement, urge new directions in war, policy

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Some U.S. policymakers "seem to fail to recognize sufficiently the reality and failures in Iraq and the imperative for new directions," warned the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a new statement on transition in Iraq.

"As pastors and teachers, we are convinced that the current situation in Iraq remains unacceptable and unsustainable," the document says.

The statement issued Nov. 13 by the conference president, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., reiterates the bishops' insistence that the transition of U.S. forces out of Iraq should take into account moral issues, such as minimizing the loss of human life, addressing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the situation of refugees and the protection of human rights, especially religious freedom.

The bishops agreed a day earlier to have Bishop Skylstad issue a statement on their behalf, a common approach for the conference when dealing with urgent issues. A statement from the conference as a whole would have required a more formal amendment and approval process not suited to quick turnaround during the annual fall meeting.

The statement bemoans the "political and partisan stalemate in Washington" that it described as a parallel to the "dangerous political stalemate" that blocks reconciliation in Iraq.

It also includes a question-and-answer supplement that describes in greater detail the USCCB positions on action in Iraq, on withdrawal of troops, on fighting terrorism and on the treatment of religious minorities in Iraq, refugees and U.S. military personnel and their families.

"As pastors, we have called for bipartisan action for almost two years," the document said. "Our country needs a new direction to reduce the war's deadly toll and to bring our people together to deal with the conflict's moral and human dimensions."

While not suggesting specific political, economic or military strategies or particular tactics, the bishops said in the statement that they wish to share the church's moral tradition to help inform policy choices.

Church teaching on war and peace "offers hard questions, not easy answers," it said. "Our nation must now focus more on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention."

Among the moral questions it raises are:

-- "How can we minimize the further loss of human lives?"

-- "What actions will do the most good and least harm?"

-- "What elements of a responsible transition are attainable?"

-- "What actions should be avoided?"

-- "What are the financial costs and global consequences of continued war and occupation?"

-- "How can our nation effectively counter the perversion of religion and ideologies that support terrorism?"

It mentions Iraq's neighbors, saying collaboration with Syria and Iran is "critically important for bringing some measure of stability to Iraq."

Resolving other conflicts, such as that between Israel and Palestine, also is critical to stability in the region, it said. And the "volatile situations in Pakistan and Afghanistan also raise significant moral questions and require urgent attention if regional stability is to be enhanced."

Another section touches on "a neglected policy priority ... the dire situation of refugees outside the country, internally displaced persons within Iraq, Christians and other vulnerable minorities."

It notes that "a staggering 2 million refugees have fled Iraq; another 2 million Iraqis are internally displaced. The U.S. should immediately make more substantial commitments to Iraqi refugees by expanding missions, eliminating roadblocks to resettlement, and supporting countries in the region burdened with war-related refugee populations."

It said extensive aid should be provided to internally displaced persons and that the protection and promotion of human rights, especially religious freedom, remain critically important.

The statement also touched on military actions, in which "ethical norms require protecting civilians, using proportionate and discriminate force, rejecting torture and fighting terrorism with nonmilitary means and the legitimate use of force when necessary." That is " morally essential," especially in the fight against terrorism, it said.

The effects of continued occupation of Iraq on military personnel, their families and the nation also should be considered as a moral issue, the statement said. The human, medical, mental health and social costs of military action carry a moral obligation, as does the need to provide for conscientious objection, it said.

All Catholics and others were urged to pray for peace and those most affected by the war.

"All of us must struggle with these moral questions, but in a particular way our conference and individual bishops will continue to engage policymakers on the moral and human dimensions of this conflict," it said.

"We pray and hope that policymakers will begin to work together on a bipartisan basis to bring an end to this war and occupation at the earliest opportunity consistent with the limited goal of a responsible transition and the protection of human lives -- Iraqi and American," the statement concluded.

At a Nov. 11 workshop on Iraq, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the bishops' international policy committee, told about 30 bishops that the U.S. church's goals for transition in that country are more modest than they were two years ago.

"We focus now on a morally and politically demanding, but carefully limited goal of responsible transition aimed at addressing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq; the refugee crisis in the region; human rights, especially religious freedom; and the need to rebuild the country," he said.

He summarized the USCCB public efforts on Iraq, ranging from public statements as long ago as 2002, when they warned that waging war against Iraq would not meet the conditions of Catholic teaching for the just use of military force.

Since then, the bishops have made repeated statements as a conference and sent letters to political leaders about how transition from war to peace should be handled.

Most recently, Bishop Wenski sent a Sept. 27 letter to members of Congress, the secretaries of the Defense Department and State Department and the national security adviser, noting "with alarm" the political stalemate about Iraq in Washington. The letter focused on the "dire situation of refugees, internally displaced persons, Christians and other vulnerable minorities in Iraq."

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Policy, and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, visited Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria in July on a fact-finding mission about the living conditions of the more than 2 million Iraqi refugees in those countries.

In October, USCCB representatives met with more than two dozen members of Congress in an off-the-record meeting to discuss moral questions related to U.S. policy in Iraq.

The meeting included Cardinal McCarrick, Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., Bishop Wenski, and two consultants to the bishops' international policy committee, John Steinbruner of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland and Maryann Cusimano Love, a professor of international politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington.


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