A letter on Iraq from Bishop Wilton Gregory, President
of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to President George
Bush.

Gerard F. Powers
Director, Office of International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017
202-541-3160 (ph)
202-541-3339 (fax)
 

September 13, 2002
 

The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

At its meeting last week, the 60-member Administrative Committee the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops asked me to write you about the
situation in Iraq.  We welcome your 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.   The Committee met before
your speech at the United Nations, but I thought it was important that I
express our serious questions about the moral legitimacy of any preemptive,
unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq.

A year ago, my predecessor Bishop Joseph Fiorenza wrote you about the U.S.
response to the horrific attacks we commemorated last week.  He told you
then that, in our judgment, 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.  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.  We have
no illusions about the behavior or intentions of the Iraqi government.  The
Iraqi leadership must cease its internal repression, end its threats to its
neighbors, stop any support for terrorism, abandon its efforts to develop
weapons of mass destruction, and comply with UN resolutions.  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.   Your decision to seek UN action is
welcome, but other questions of ends and means must also be answered.

There are no easy answers.  People of good will may apply ethical
principles and come to different prudential judgments, depending upon their
assessment of the facts at hand and other issues.   We conclude, based on
the facts that are known to us, that a preemptive, unilateral use of force
is difficult to justify at this time.  We fear that resort to force, under
these circumstances, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic
teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military
force.  Of particular concern are the traditional just war criteria of just
cause, right authority, probability of success, proportionality and
noncombatant immunity.

Just cause.  What is the casus belli for a military attack on Iraq?  The
Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting widely accepted moral and
legal limits on why military force may be used, limits just cause to cases
in which (the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community
of nations [is] lasting, grave and certain.( (#2309)  Is there clear and
adequate evidence of a direct connection between Iraq and the attacks of
September 11th or clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a
grave nature?  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?  Should not a distinction be
made between efforts to change unacceptable behavior of a government and
efforts to end that government(s existence?

Legitimate authority.  The moral credibility of the use of military force
also depends heavily on whether there is legitimate authority for using
force to topple the Iraqi government.  In our judgment, decisions of such
gravity require compliance with U.S. constitutional imperatives, broad
consensus within our nation, and some form of international sanction,
preferably by the UN Security Council.  That is why your decision to seek
congressional and United Nations approval is so important.  With the Holy
See, we would be deeply skeptical about unilateral uses of military force,
particularly given the troubling precedents involved.

Probability of success and proportionality.  The use of force must have
(serious prospects for success( and (must not produce evils and disorders
graver than the evil to be eliminated( (Catechism, #2309).  War against
Iraq could have unpredictable consequences not only for Iraq but for peace
and stability elsewhere in the Middle East. Would preventive or preemptive
force succeed in thwarting serious threats or, instead, provoke the very
kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent?  How would another war in
Iraq impact the civilian population, in the short- and long-term?  How many
more innocent people would suffer and die, or be left without homes, without basic
necessities, without work?  Would the United States and the international
community commit to the arduous, long-term task of ensuring a just peace or
would a post-Saddam Iraq continue to be plagued by civil conflict and
repression, and continue to serve as a destabilizing force in the region?
Would the use of military force lead to wider conflict and instability?
Would war against Iraq detract from our responsibility to help build a just
and stable order in Afghanistan and undermine the broader coalition against
terrorism?

Norms governing the conduct of war.  While we recognize improved capability
and serious efforts to avoid directly targeting civilians in war, the 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 raise these troubling questions to contribute to the vital national
debate about ends and means, risks and choices reflecting our
responsibilities as pastors and teachers.  Our assessment of these
questions leads us to urge you to pursue actively alternatives to war.  We
hope you will persist in the very frustrating and difficult challenges of
building broad international support for a new, more constructive and
effective approach to press the Iraqi government to live up to its
international obligations.  This approach could include continued
diplomatic efforts aimed, in part, at resuming rigorous, meaningful
inspections; effective enforcement of the military embargo; maintenance of
political sanctions and much more carefullyfocused economic sanctions which
do not threaten the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians; non-military support
for those in Iraq who offer genuine democratic alternatives; and other
legitimate ways to contain and deter aggressive Iraqi actions.

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.

Sincerely yours,
 
 

Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
President