Press Conference on Syria - Opening Remarks
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
September 11, 2013
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, President
In opening this press briefing, I want to mark the Anniversary of 9/11. As Archbishop of New York, this observance has special significance for me. We reverently recall those who were most directly affected by this tragedy—those who died, were injured or lost loved ones. In a special way we remember the selfless first responders—firefighters, police, chaplains, emergency workers, and other brave persons—who risked, and many times lost, their lives in their courageous efforts to save others. Let us pray that the lasting legacy of 9/11 is not fear, but rather hope for a world renewed.
The Administrative Committee of our Conference of Bishops just concluded its meeting. Yesterday, in solidarity with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the suffering bishops, churches and people of the Middle East, we unanimously adopted a strong statement on Syria. We affirmed what the bishops have said all along – that the only true path to peace in Syria is a political solution, not military intervention. Violence spurs more violence, and innocent people, many of them Christians and other vulnerable minorities, pay the price. We bishops offer our prayers and ask the United States to work with other governments to begin building an inclusive peace in Syria.
Bishop Richard Pates, Chairman of our Committee on International Justice and Peace, is leading the bishops’ efforts. Bishop John Wester, the Chairman of our Communications Committee, and former Chair of our Migration Committee, is in touch with the humanitarian situation.
Last night President Obama spoke to the nation regarding Syria. Today, I would like to invite Bishop Pates and Bishop Wester to comment on Syria from the perspective of international policy and humanitarian concern.
Bishop Richard E. Pates, Bishop of Des Moines, Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
Thank you, Cardinal Dolan.
First, I would like to say that we welcome the President’s decision to postpone Congressional consideration of a resolution to authorized military action. It is critical that recent international proposals to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons get serious attention, evaluation and encouragement. As Pope Francis has said repeatedly, dialogue and negotiation are the paths to peace, not military attacks and arms shipments.
Despite this positive development our Conference, in union with the whole Church, remains deeply concerned that the possibility of military action remains on the table. Last night the President said he sees "modest effort and risk" in a limited U.S. led attack. Instead, the Church sees a grave range of "unintended negative consequences." With Pope Francis we believe pursuit of a military solution is “futile” and will distract from serious diplomatic and political solutions.
Our bottom line is that we call upon our nation and the international community to press not just for a resolution of the question of chemical weapons, but to work for serious dialogue to end the conflict, to refrain from fueling further violence with military attacks or arms transfers, and to offer more humanitarian assistance. Bishop Wester will focus on this last element.
Bishop John Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, Chairman, Communications Committee
Thank you, Bishop Pates.
There’s a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria. Both our Migration Committee and our International Committee have gone on solidarity visits to the region and met with Syrian refugees. Their stories are heartbreaking. This conflict has a human face, too often the faces are those of terrified women and children. We cannot forget that more than 100,000 Syrians have lost their lives. More than 2 million have fled the country as refugees, 1 million of them children. More than 4 million within Syria have been driven from their homes by the violence; half of them children.
What can our nation do? We’ll help families and save lives only by working to end the conflict, not by fueling it. Beyond that, we affirm the Administration’s commitment to provide humanitarian assistance, but more is required. We will be asking Congress to be generous in this regard. Lives are at stake. In addition, our nation must be prepared to resettle Syrian refugees who will be unable to return to their homes for fear of their lives.
As a postscript, I would add that Congress has more on its agenda than Syria, as critical as it is. Our bishops remain deeply concerned for comprehensive immigration reform.