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Catholic Bishops Oppose a Unilateral War on Iraq

September 18, 2002|LARRY B. STAMMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are questioning the moral legitimacy of a war with Iraq and urged President Bush to "step back from the brink."

In a letter Friday to the White House made public Tuesday, the 60-member Administrative Committee of the Roman Catholic bishops conference drew a sharp line between U.S. military action over the last year in Afghanistan and a preemptive war with Iraq.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the conference, said Catholic bishops have "serious questions about the moral legitimacy of any preemptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq."

"Given the precedents and risk 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 Sept. 11 or of an imminent attack of a grave nature," Gregory wrote in the letter. He ended with a plea: "We respectfully urge you to step back from the brink of war."

The letter was the latest warning by religious leaders over such a war. Last week, 48 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican clergy challenged a first strike against Iraq by the U.S., calling talk of a preemptive blow alarming. Their letter was sent through Churches for Middle East Peace, which in the past has raised objections to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Among those signing that letter were the presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church, the National Baptist Convention's president, and the general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

The Catholic statement was approved last week, before Bush's speech Thursday at the United Nations in which he urged the world body to join the U.S. in taking action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

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