USCCB Response to September 11

Year Published
  • 2011
  • English
The principal document that outlines the U.S. Bishops' response to the attacks of September 11th is the Pastoral Message: Living with Faith and Hope After September 11, which was issued by the full body of bishops in November 2001. This message was the product of intensive work by the International Policy Committee and a subcommittee of bishops and lay experts . This subcommittee, whose members represented diverse areas of expertise and diverse perspectives, met weekly for five weeks to craft this statement.

Reach Out to Those In Need

  • The first response of the Church was to provide pastoral and spiritual guidance and words of healing and consolation for those directly effected by the attacks and for a suffering and traumatized nation. Faith has been awakened in many ways and in many people as a result of the terrorist attacks and faith has sustained our nation in dark times.

  • Catholics, like other Americans, showed an overwhelming generosity of spirit in providing aid to those affected directly or indirectly both in the United States and, through Catholic Relief Services, in Afghanistan.

  • The bishops and other religious leaders called on Americans to avoid succumbing to hate, revenge, and violence, particularly against Arab-Americans and Muslims.

Resolve to Defend Innocent Life and the Common Good

  • Crimes against humanity.

    The attacks of September 11th were not just attacks on the United States, but, as Pope John Paul II has said, they were crimes against humanity. The victims came from dozens of countries, and the economic and political repercussions have been global. Those responsible for the attacks may have been motivated by opposition to specific U.S. policies, particularly in the Middle East, but their underlying agenda seems to be a deep antagonism toward Western culture and institutions.

  • Duty to defend the common good.

    The U.S., in collaboration with other nations and organizations, has a moral right and a grave obligation to defend the common good against mass terrorism. Therefore, there is a right and duty to seek out and hold accountable, in accord with national and international law, those individuals, groups and governments which are responsible. The real risk that terrorists will use weapons of mass destruction in the future only reinforces the urgency of this task.

Restraint in the Use of Military Force

  • Non-military means of defending the common good.

    While military action may be necessary to defend the common good, it is by no means sufficient to deal with this terrorist threat. National leaders bear a heavy moral obligation to see that the full spectrum of non-violent means is employed. From bolstering homeland security and ensuring greater transparency of the financial system to strengthening global cooperation against terrorism, a wide range of non-military measures must be pursued.

  • Military force may be justified in Afghanistan

    but U.S. actions must be governed by respect for just war criteria, especially civilian immunity and proportionality. The U.S. must not only act justly but be perceived to be acting justly if it is to succeed in marginalizing terrorists.

  • Long-term efforts to rebuild Afghanistan:

    A just war requires a just peace. The U.S. must work with the international community on long-term and sustained efforts to help Afghans rebuild the political, economic, and cultural life of their country after the war. CRS is playing a key role in this effort.

  • Use of force against Iraq:

    The Bush administration has reiterated, in a new context and with greater vigor, the long-standing U.S. policy of calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. While major military strikes do not appear imminent, they would likely be part of a multi-faceted effort to achieve this objective. The USCCB has not addressed these new threats against Iraq, but absent any clear evidence that Iraq was involved in the September 11th attacks or that it represents a clear and present danger to other countries, previous statements by the bishops opposing the use of force against Iraq remain valid.

The Roots of Terrorism

  • A new sense of solidarity.

    One function of the bishops' statements on September 11th was to refocus the public debate from military responses to terrorism to long-term efforts to get at the roots of terrorism. After September 11th, Americans better appreciate how injustice and instability in far away lands about which we know and care too little can have a direct impact on our own sense of peace and security.

  • A broad understanding of security.

    In dealing with terrorism, a focus on military security is not adequate; a much broader, long-term understanding of security is needed. Without in any way justifying the unjustifiable, the U.S. must do much more to address policies and problems that provide fertile ground in which terrorism can thrive. Addressing poverty, injustice and conflict around the world will not eliminate terrorism, but people of hate and violence will have fewer allies, supporters and resources to commit their heinous acts. Therefore, the United States should

    • renew efforts to achieve a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the genocidal conflict in Sudan;

    • end the economic embargo against Iraq;

    • address with much greater seriousness the scandal of global poverty and economic inequalities by promoting sustainable development in the poorest countries;

    • ensure that human rights are an integral part of U.S. foreign policy;

    • reduce the predominant role of the US in the arms trade;

    • strengthen the UN and other international institutions.

  • Religion and terrorism.

    Any simplistic connection between Islam and terrorism must be rejected. The most effective counter to terrorist claims of religious justification for violence or, for that matter, to those who claim that religion is mostly a source of conflict comes from within the world's rich religious traditions and from the witness of so many people of faith who have been a powerful force for non-violent human liberation around the world. September 11th presents a challenge to the Church as well as our government to come to a deeper level of understanding and engagement with Islam.

Burden Sharing and the Poor

  • Needs of the poor and oppressed.

    The combination of the war on terrorism, tax cuts and a recession are putting new pressures on international and domestic programs that serve the poor and vulnerable. The poor abroad and in the United States must not be asked to bear a disproportionate burden of the sacrifices that will have to be made in this long-term effort against terrorism.

  • Homeland security and migration and refugee issues.

    The bishops are concerned that, as essential security measures are strengthened, the U.S. government is singling out immigrants and taking this opportunity to unnecessarily restrict legal immigration. Moreover, the U.S. temporarily suspended and might reduce refugee admissions at a time when the need to protect refugees who flee terror in their homelands is as great as ever. Ensuring security is not necessarily incompatible with a generous immigration regime. Undermining our heritage as a nation of immigrants will weaken, not strengthen, our country, an outcome any terrorist would welcome.