BY DAVID V BARRETT
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales were preparing this week to issue a robust critique of the case for the war in Iraq, just days before President George W Bush holds a crucial meeting with the Pope.
They were expected to attack the arguments for last year’s Coalition invasion in a major new teaching document to be released on Wednesday, after The Catholic Herald went to press.
The 100-page document, entitled Cherishing Life, presents the Church’s teaching on many important moral issues. A spokeswoman for the Church said that many of its key themes — same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia — were “unsurprising, straight-down-theline Catholic teaching”.
But the bishops’ exploration of “just war” theory is likely to spark renewed debate over the war and to cause dismay in Downing Street. Although the bishops do not mention Iraq explicitly in their document, their comments will be seen as an indirect critique of the American-led assault.
The bishops were expected to say: “The decision to go to war should be taken as a last resort after all other political, economic and diplomatic means have been exhausted. It must be waged by a legitimate ruler and, where this exists, be authorised by international law or mandate. It ought also to reflect a fair degree of popular support.” The bishops’ comments will be published less than a week after a senior American cardinal in the Vatican accused the US administration of “moral failure” and deception in Iraq. In an interview with Inside the Vatican magazine, Cardinal James Francis Stafford also argued that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was the work of “barbarians”.
He said: “Why did the President, the vice-president and the secretary of defence say there was an immediate danger to the peace of American society by the proximate use of weapons that would come from Iraq, either directly or through alQaeda? Why did they say that when they didn’t have direct evidence?” Kevin McNamara, Labour MP for Hull North, said that the bishops’ document would bolster the case against the war.
He said: “The bishops’statement underlines the gravity of any decision about going to war, and underlines in modern times St Thomas’s conditions for a just war. By any examination of the bishops’ text I feel the decision to go to war in Iraq could not be justified and cannot be justified, and as a result of that there is an obligation on the UK, and on America in particular, in conscience to seek a speedy and effective withdrawal from Iraq while at the same time leaving behind structures and an infrastructure which will enable the Iraqi people to make meaningful decisions about their own future.” But Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, an outspoken critic of the Coalition, said the bishops did not have the Iraq war especially in mind when they agreed the document, though their intervention came “at an opportune moment”.
“There is the Israel-Palestine conflict as well — a hopeless situation at the moment,” the bishop said. “It [the document] is much wider than the Iraq situation, but that would not be excluded.” However, the document is likely to be seen as implicitly criticising the way that Britain and America have conducted the war in Iraq.
The text is expected to say: “What has never been accepted by the Church is usurping God’s authority over life and death by deliberately killing those who are not engaged in unjust aggression.
“The killing of unarmed prisoners of war, indiscriminate bombing, the use of weapons of mass destruction, and the targeting of schools, hospitals or residential areas cannot be regarded as legitimate military targets. Even if these were done in a good cause, they would not be acts of war but acts of terror.” Baroness Shirley Williams, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, welcomed the bishops’document, and particularly its emphasis on the concept of just war. “Unless we have the theory of just war, war spills over and engulfs huge numbers of innocent lives, as we have seen in Iraq,” she said.
Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, also backed the document.
“The bishops, in their eminently reasonable comments, have put their finger on all the arguments used against the war in Iraq,” he said. “I’m delighted the bishops support us. I think they should have just come out and said the war was wrong.” The bishops’ document is likely to speak out strongly against terrorism of all kinds. But it will say also that “ a proper response to terrorism must be based on justice and law, not on vengeance”.
The bishops are expected to add that “the intentions of those who fight the war must be upright: acting for the sake of the stated cause and not for the sake of strategic or economic gain, empire or conquest.” Bishop O’Donoghue said there was “no doubt” that domination was one of the motivations for the war.
“Rather than attempt to help countries back to human rights, it’s contrary to that — it’s about domination, economic control,” he said. “If you control the economies there are huge dangers with regard to the global effect.” Not all the world’s bishops oppose the conflict in Iraq. Bishop Slawoj Glodz of Poland’s military diocese has described the war as “a pure and noble mission” to liberate Iraq from “the power of darkness”. Poland has 2,350 troops in Iraq.
“Our soldiers know their task is justified, that it conforms with standards of human civilisation and culture,” Bishop Glodz said.
Cherishing Life will be available from the Catholic Truth Society, priced £4.95. Next week we will present a full analysis of the text.