US Catholic Bishops Guilty of Material Cooperation With the Objective Evil of Unjust War!

A Catholic Worker Response to the US Bishops' Statements on Iraq, November 2006-January 2007

The United States Catholic Bishops continue to evade their moral and canonical responsibilities regarding the war on the people of Iraq. On November 13, 2006, Bishop William Skylstad, president of the US Bishop's conference, issued a statement calling for a "responsible transition" for Iraq. On January 12, 2007, he issued a document evaluating President Bush's plan to expand and intensify the war in Iraq. These documents are the latest in a series of morally problematic statements on Iraq from the U.S. Bishops' Conference. The bishops ignore their own personal responsibility for our nation's disastrous war policy. They inflate their reputation as peacemakers and they call for even more war and violence in their crusade for a "responsible transition" in Iraq. See how clever they are with words? War is no longer peace, now it is "responsible transition".

The bishops protest that this accusation is untrue, but if they demand a responsible transition, then they must pray for everything that is included in such events, and that includes all of the war and violence and death that the situation requires.

The first problem is that the United States Catholic bishops have no particular competence to decide what is and is not a responsible transition for the people of Iraq. Their job was to decide whether the original invasion was just or unjust and then to act accordingly. They failed that historical test. They were right there with everybody else, chanting, "Crucify him! Crucify him! Give us Barabbas!" By their uncritical acceptance of the government's propaganda that the United States is "pursuing peace and justice in Iraq", they provide moral cover for the on-going slaughter of the Iraqi people. They offer nothing to the victims other than pious, hypocritical rhetoric. And so they continue to chant, "Crucify them! Crucify them! Give us Transition!" If these bishops have nothing better to say than what they said November 13th and January 12th, they should spare themselves and all Catholics any further embarrassment and just keep quiet on the subject.

Contrary to the deliberately misleading impression given by Bishop Skylstad's statements, the response of the U.S. Catholic bishops, as a conference and as individual bishops with canonical responsibilities for dioceses -- with one exception - to the Iraq war was moral relativism and moral laxism. All of the Conference statements, while indeed expressing "grave moral reservations" about the justice of the Iraq war, also say that people could come to different conclusions about the justice of the Iraq war, and that's fine with the bishops.

The moral problem is this: The Iraq war is either a just war or it is an unjust war. It is not "both-and" - it is "either-or". It has an objective reality and it cannot be just and unjust at the same time. While people can indeed come to different conclusions about the Iraq War, not all of those opinions are morally equal.

Last year I conducted a review of the individual statements about Iraq of the bishops who are responsible for dioceses in the U.S. I searched the website of every diocese and did internet searches on the bishops' names for statements made between 2002 and 2006 on the subject of Iraq. Only 39 diocesan bishops made public statements calling for prayers for the people of Iraq. Twenty publicized or endorsed the various statements of the bishops' conference on Iraq. Twenty-eight provided some sort of catechesis about just war teaching. One hundred forty-six of the bishops responsible for dioceses had nothing to say about Iraq (that can be found on the Internet, retired and auxiliary bishop statements were not researched.)

Only 1 bishop responsible for a diocese issued a canonical declaration against involvement with the war in Iraq, Bishop Botean of the Romanian Catholic diocese, Canton, Ohio. With great moral clarity, he told his people that willing participation in the Iraq War was the moral equivalent of willing participation in an abortion.

Sine poena nulla lex - without penalty, there is no law. The refusal of the other bishops to issue similar canonical declarations thus gave tacit ecclesiastical approval to wage an unjust war against the people of Iraq. Their message was clearly understood by everyone concerned: do what you will to the people of Iraq, we will not use our canonical authority to stand in your way. We will thus make it easy and morally comfortable for you to kill hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom will be women and children.

The United States Catholic Bishops are therefore guilty of material cooperation with the evil of unjust war.

The bishops now claim that our unjust war gives us "new moral responsibilities to stabilize and rebuild the nation," and that we must stay through a 'responsible transition" - but this is a tired justification for "white man's burden" imperialism that has no credibility except in the ears of imperialists. It's an old game - a bigger country invades a smaller country, wreaks havoc, and then justifies its continued occupation by the need to "restore order" or secure some other public benefit.

A better strategy is to trust the people of Iraq to determine their own political arrangements and rebuild their nation. Judging from the opinion polls in Iraq, most Iraqis feel that the U.S. government has "helped" them more than enough. When a bull is wrecking a china shop, the first thing that is necessary to stop the damage and repair the situation is to get the bull out of the shop.

It is beyond our power to impose a better settlement on the Iraqi people. Every day that we extend our occupation of Iraq, we make the situation worse. In the future, radical anti-American Islamic clerics will come to power. The influence of Iran will increase. Instability will spread beyond Iraq. All of this became inevitable the moment we invaded. As long as we occupy Iraq, there is nothing that we can do about this.

If the bishops want peace, they must stop providing moral comfort for US military imperialism, forsake their own moral relativism and laxism, and publicly repent of their material cooperation with the evil of unjust war. They should call upon the U.S. government to withdraw from Iraq immediately. If the Iraqi government needs assistance to establish public order, there are established international mechanisms to provide that through the United Nations.

Pious words of concern for the well-being of victims are a fine thing but they are not a substitute for fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Coming from the mouths of bishops who are materially cooperating with the evil of unjust war, the November 13th and January 12th documents are works of religious hypocrisy.

Robert Waldrop

Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House

the first Sunday of Lent, AD 2007