Policy & Advocacy

Information of The Bishops and the War in Iraq, May 2003

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

May 2003

The Bishops and the War

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued four major statements or letters on Iraq prior to the war: Letter of Bishop Wilton Gregory to President George Bush (9/13/02); Statement of full body of bishops (11/13/02); Statement of Bishop Gregory (2/26/03); Statement of Bishop Gregory (3/19/03). The bishops' position was summarized in their November 2002 statement: "With the Holy See and bishops from the Middle East and around the world, we fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force." These statements, along with educational and prayer resources, were disseminated widely and received considerable media attention.

In addition, the Bishops' International Policy Committee met with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on May 21, 2002; Bishop Gregory and the presiding bishops of the Episcopal and Lutheran churches met with Dr. Rice on September 16; Cardinals Theodore McCarrick, William Keeler, Edward Egan and Anthony Bevilacqua met with Dr. Rice on March 3, 2003; Cardinal McCarrick, Bishop John Ricard, Chairman of the International Policy Committee, and USCCB staff also assisted with special papal envoy Cardinal Pio Laghi's visit to Washington to meet with President Bush on March 5.

Many individual bishops around the country issued their own statements or joined in interfaith statements, prayer services for peace, or other activities. It is impossible to summarize the many educational, advocacy and witness activities of diocesan social action offices, parishes and various Catholic organizations. While polls tend to show that most Catholics supported the war in the end, this support was soft and highly qualified, and a couple of major polls showed that a significant percentage of Catholics knew the Church's position on the war and that Catholics were 10-15% less likely to support the war than the general public.

Urgent Post War Concerns

The USCCB's International Policy Committee, which discussed the situation in Iraq at its May meeting, is focusing on the urgent need for the United States to work with other countries and the United Nations on long-term efforts to help Iraqis build a just and enduring peace in their country. Among the issues of concern are the following:

Humanitarian/ reconstruction aid. On March 28 and April 9, in letters to Congress on the supplemental appropriations, Bishop Ricard urged that sufficient funding be provided for humanitarian and development needs in Iraq (and Afghanistan), that the military should not have a leading role in relief and reconstruction efforts, but should cooperate, as necessary, with NGOs who have experience and expertise in relief and development. Cardinal McCarrick raised similar concerns in a meeting of a dozen religious leaders with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on April 10. Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and other Catholic agencies will continue to do all that they can to respond to the needs of the Iraqi people, and to work with the Church in Iraq to ensure that it will continue to have an appropriate role in meeting humanitarian and development needs.

Security and basic services. Relief and development efforts cannot succeed, however, without adequate security, a restoration of basic services, and a functioning government. The United States must do much more to address this serious need in Iraq.

Religious freedom. Religion is a key factor in Iraq. The particular cultural and historical role of religion in Iraq must be respected, while ensuring that religious freedom and the rights of minorities are fully respected in any new social and political order that emerges in Iraq.

Solidarity with Church and people in Iraq. This is a critical time to renew and deepen our bonds of solidarity with the Church and people in Iraq through CRS, CNEWA, and other Catholic aid programs, establishing direct links to the Christian community in Iraq, and other ways.

The role of the United Nations. The United Nations has an important role to play in addressing humanitarian issues, contributing to the formation of a government that has international legitimacy, and addressing other post-war issues.

Israel-Palestinian conflict. With the release of the Road Map by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN, there is a new opportunity to make long-delayed progress in reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The USCCB is urging the Bush administration to give this the highest priority.

Iraq and broader foreign policy issues. The war with Iraq raised fundamental questions which must continue to be addressed, including the appropriate way to deal with challenges posed by rogue regimes and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the role of military force, particularly preemptive force; and the role of the United Nations and cooperative security.

Other priorities. War and reconstruction in Iraq must not result in an abandonment of our nation's responsibilities to the poor at home and abroad, or a diversion of essential resources from other humanitarian emergencies around the world.

More information: Gerard Powers 202-541-3160 (ph); 541-3339 (fax); usccb.org/sdwp