The nation's Roman Catholic bishops began reviewing their position on the war on terrorism yesterday, acknowledging a moral right to a military defense but warning that force alone is not the answer.
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opened a four-day meeting in Washington, the authors of a draft proclamation took pains to say that nothing justifies terrorism. Still, they argued that poverty, violence and human rights abuses, if not addressed, generate resentment that terrorists can exploit.
It's causing death and suffering to huge numbers of innocent people. If we're religious, moral leaders, we ought to be looking for a different set of guidelines, and that should be the Gospel.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit
The draft proposal urges U.S. leaders to redefine foreign policy to make alleviating global suffering a priority, and recommends lifting economic sanctions against Iraq and helping to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It also asks national leaders to develop criteria for when the airstrikes on Afghanistan should end. "The actions of our nation and other nations must ensure a just war now and a just peace later," the statement reads.
The document was presented by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who oversaw the drafting process. Later this week, the bishops' conference will vote on whether to approve the proclamation.
The bishops also are scheduled to elect new officers today. Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., is expected to become the first black president. Gregory now serves as vice president, and conference vice presidents traditionally ascend to the top post.
Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Tex., the current president, is ending his three-year term.
The conference, which serves as the church's national voice on social, political and religious policy, has issued previous statements on the war, insisting that the military response be proportionate and avoid harming innocent civilians. The draft proclamation continues in that spirit, but also calls opposition to military action a "valid Christian response."
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit is among those critical of the bombing in Afghanistan.
"It's causing death and suffering to huge numbers of innocent people," Gumbleton said. "If we're religious, moral leaders, we ought to be looking for a different set of guidelines, and that should be the Gospel."
The draft also provides specifics on the individual Catholic response, recommending that Catholics pray regularly, fast one day a week, support interfaith dialogue and donate to charity. The bishops hope to designate Jan. 1 as a national day of prayer for peace.
"Above all, we need to turn to God and to one another in hope," the authors wrote. "Hope assures us that, with God's grace, we will see our way through what now seems such a daunting challenge."
© 2001 The Washington Post Company