WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 The nation's Roman Catholic bishops turned their
attention today from the sexual abuse crisis to devising a statement to express
moral reservations about going to war against Iraq.
This is the kind of global concern that used to preoccupy the bishops before
this year, when the church was overwhelmed by the scandal over some bishops' failure
to discipline priests who had sexually abused children and teenagers.
on the brink of war and I think we have to be very very clear that all of us are
against the war in Iraq. We need to be strong. We need to be forceful and not
Walter F. Sullivan of
Today, on the second day of their annual fall conference, Cardinal Bernard
F. Law of Boston, the leader at the center of the abuse scandal, presided over
the debate on whether action in Iraq qualified as a "just war," even as abuse
victims' groups called for his resignation.
As chairman of the bishops' committee on international policy, Cardinal Law
will have the main role in drafting a statement for a group that is clearly not
of one mind.
Some bishops urged the panel to do more than raise questions and to provide
clear moral guidance that could help advise the government and Roman Catholics
in the armed forces.
"We are on the brink of war," Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond, Va.,
said, "and I think we have to be very very clear that all of us are against the
war in Iraq. We need to be strong. We need to be forceful and not equivocate."
Former Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans, said, "I think we ought
to be very cautious about saying we are entirely against war."
Archbishop Hannan, who has opposed the bishops' pacifist positions before,
said that based on his experience helping at concentration camps in World War
II he could back a pre-emptive attack on a "despotic power" like Saddam Hussein.
Cardinal Law said his group would produce a statement that was highly likely
to reflect the letter that Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent to President Bush on Sept. 13. It warned
that a war against Iraq could have "unpredictable consequences" for civilians
and for stability in Iraq and the Mideast.
The bishops also passed a plan to stem the defections of Hispanic immigrants
to evangelical and Pentecostal churches. The bishops did not discuss their new
abuse policy that was revised in a meeting at the Vatican. The vote on the policy
is scheduled for tomorrow, and the revision is highly likely to pass intact.
The bishops' conference has often taken stands on war and peace. It condemned
the Vietnam War in 1971 and issued a pastoral letter on nuclear weapons in 1983,
said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit.
"Since then," Bishop Gumbleton said, "we have become more and more wary about
standing up to the government. We have many more bishops who are more concerned
about internal church matters than social justice issues."
Cardinal Law said the new statement, likely to be issued on Wednesday, would
be a "moral reflection on this issue, raising questions" about whether an Iraq
war fit the criteria of a "just war." Catholic teaching imparts a strong presumption
against using force. For a war to be deemed just it has to have a just cause,
legitimate authority for those who initiate the war, strong prospects of success
and "proportionality," which the catechism says means that it "must not produce
evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated."
As the bishops began trickling out of their morning session, three gay Catholic
protesters knelt in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel and opened their hands
as if waiting to receive holy communion. The organizer, the Rev. Mel White, a
former ghostwriter for the Rev. Jerry Falwell who now leads a gay civil disobedience
group, Soulforce, said the three protesters were denied the eucharist on Monday
at the Mass for the bishops in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception in Washington.
After the three ignored warnings from hotel security, they were arrested,
as was Mr. White. The group had traveled across the country to protest against
some Vatican and American Catholic officials who have faulted gay priests for
the sex abuse scandal.
A priest denied the three communion because they wore rainbow lapel pins and
were mistaken for another gay rights group that tries to receive communion to
protest church teachings, said Susan Gibbs, a Washington Archdiocese spokeswoman.
"The policy in Washington," Ms. Gibbs said, "has been that those who indicate
they intend to receive communion as a sign of protest are denied. For us, communion
is a sign of unity and the most important part of our faith, and not a sign of
At the hotel across the street from where the bishops are, another group,
Survivors First, released a list of more than 573 priests accused of abusing minors
Yet another group, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called
SNAP, demanded that the bishops most culpable for protecting abusive priests like
Cardinal Law resign as bishops or at least be stripped of leadership positions
in the bishops' conference.
In a new tactic, SNAP also praised eight bishops who, it said, "have begun
to break ranks with their colleagues, and take tangible steps toward healing and
They are Bishop Frank J. Rodimer of Paterson, N.J., and Archbishop Timothy
M. Dolan of Milwaukee, for having "listening sessions" with victims; Bishop James
M. Hoffman of Toledo, Ohio, for letting SNAP advertise a meeting of a support
group in his diocesan newspaper; Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, for releasing
a list of abusive priests in his diocese; Bishop Robert E. Mulvee of Providence,
R.I., and his staff, for meeting one on one with victims; Cardinal Francis George
of Chicago and Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis, for saying they would lobby
to extend the statutes of limitations in their states; Bishop William Lori of
Bridgeport, for disciplining two priests who hid the location of an accused priest;
and Bishop Gregory, of Belleville, Ill., who gave an accounting for the costs
of the scandal in his diocese.
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