US bishops urge Bush to "step back from brink of war"

 In a letter to President Bush, Bishop Wilton D Gregory expressed serious questions about the moral legitimacy of any preemptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq at the same time as welcoming the President's efforts to focus the world's attention on the need to address Iraq's repression and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in defiance of the United Nations. Bishop Gregory, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), hand-delivered the letter to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at a meeting at the White House last Tuesday. In the letter, Bishop Gregory recalled the situation one year ago when the then-President of the USCCB, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, said the use of force against Afghanistan could be justified if it were carried out in accord with just war norms and as one part of a much broader, mostly non-military effort to deal with terrorism. "We believe Iraq is a different case," Bishop Gregory said. "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 September 11th or of an imminent attack of a grave nature. "The United States and the international community have two grave moral obligations: to protect the common good against any Iraqi threats to peace and to do so in a way that conforms with fundamental moral norms," Bishop Gregory said. "We have no illusions about the behaviour or intentions of the Iraqi government," he continued. "Mobilizing the nations of the world to recognize and address Iraq's threat to peace and stability through new UN action and common commitment to ensure that Iraq abides by its commitments is a legitimate and necessary alternative to the unilateral use of military force," he added. While welcoming the decision to seek UN action, "other question of ends and means must also be answered," he noted. "Is it wise to dramatically expand traditional moral and legal limits on just cause to include preventive or preemptive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?" He emphasized that, "War against Iraq could have unpredictable consequences not only for Iraq but for peace and stability elsewhere in the Middle East," and "use of massive military force to remove the current government of Iraq could have incalculable consequences for a civilian population that has suffered so much from war, repression, and a debilitating embargo." "We respectfully urge you 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 that conforms with traditional moral limits on the use of military force," Bishop Gregory wrote. source: US Bishops' Conference

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