November 9, 2006
Mr. Stephen Colecchi
Director, Office of International Justice and Peace
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington, DC 20017
Dear Mr. Colecchi:
If there is one thing that I have learned in my 30 years of work in social justice, it is that whenever those who are poor and without power complain about the depredations of those with power and wealth, the first thing that happens is that people complain about the "tone" of the comments directed at them. "Those people are getting too uppity." "They are so angry it turns people off." "Sarcasm isn't helpful." Thus, I am not surprised that the first thing that you do is complain about my use of sarcasm and my lack of charity towards the bishops. Civil discourse is a fine thing, and we can all hope to achieve it, but it is not an end of itself, it is a means to an end. Civil discourse is a conversation that goes both ways, and over the last four years the Catholic bishops have made it abundantly clear that they simply aren't interested in talking to people who without compromise support peace in Iraq and who have done so since the beginning of the war. If I feel the need to shout, it is because the United States Catholic bishops are stone cold deaf to the cry of the poor in Iraq.
While it is true I embrace pacifism, in all of my writings on the Iraq War I have been careful to write from a just war perspective as described in the Catechism. Dismissing my comments as those of a pacifist is a convenient and easy way to marginalize my message, but it has nothing to do with anything I have actually said on this subject.
As the threat of war grew, I admit I read the statements of the NCCB with some hope. "Well, they're heading in the right direction." As time passed, however, the inadequacy of the bishops' statements became more evident, especially when compared to the moral clarity of Bishop Botean's canonical declaration regarding the war. I have seen no catechetical effort regarding war and peace. Indeed, as the war has ground on, and the casualties have mounted, bishops have said less and less. So it comes to pass that my use of sarcasm is a measure of my own personal spiritual despair as I contemplate the US Catholic bishops' material cooperation with the murder of the innocent. It was not an accident of my rhetoric, I assure you it was intentional. If the bishops want a civil conversation, let them begin that conversation by publicly disassociating themselves and the Catholic Church in these United States from the murder of the innocent. As I said first time around, pigs will fly before that happens. Please feel free to continue to decry my rhetoric, but facts are facts, and putting lipstick on the pig changes nothing. The message they sent on Iraq 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.
You say I distort the statements of the bishops. This is not true. I simply read them with the eyes of the powerless and my "strict translations"of their remarks are fair and just readings of what they have said and not said. The bishops preach moral relativism and moral laxism regarding the war in Iraq, there can be no denial of that. Enclosed is an essay by Fr. Emmanuel McCarthy describing in greater detail the moral basis of this accusation.
One reason for my certainty regarding this accusation of moral cowardice is because I have researched the bishops' comments and statements regarding the war against the people of Iraq. To prepare my response to your letter, I visited the website of every diocese in this country. I searched those websites for comments by diocesan bishops about the war. I did Google searches on each of the diocesan bishops and in many cases, I also searched the archives of the primary secular newspaper of their diocese. When I say their hearts are stone cold and they embrace moral relativism regarding the war on the people of Iraq, I say this having read everything available on the Internet that the bishops have said about Iraq since 2002. And there is much less there than you say there is.
Only 39 diocesan bishops have made public statements calling for prayers for the people of Iraq. Only twenty diocesan bishops publicized and/or endorsed the various statements of the NCCB on Iraq. Only twenty-eight provided some sort of catechesis about just war teaching. Nineteen of the bishops made some other comment indicating that they thought the war was unjust. One hundred forty-six of them have had nothing to say about Iraq since 2002, or at least, nothing that can be found on the Internet. Only one bishop issued a canonical declaration against involvement with the war in Iraq.
It's not that these bishops are silent in general. They talk about many things, first and foremost the sexual abuse crisis. But when it comes to the Iraq War, they are as quiet as the bishops of Germany during World War II, and with much less reason to be silent. Nobody is going to put a US bishop in a concentration camp for speaking out against the Iraq War. This makes the moral cowardice of the US bishops during this unjust war all the more egregious. No doubt you think me self-righteous for making this judgment, but my personal spiritual failings, which are many, do not invalidate the accuracy of the observation.
Some bishops have actually marginalized the victims of the Iraq War in an attempt to score political points for the pro-war Republican Party. Archbishop Burke made this ludicrous statement in a 2004 pastoral letter: "Although war and capital punishment can rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil; neither practice includes the direct intention of killing innocent human beings." I understand that capital punishment does not intend to take an innocent life, but since when did war not include the "direct intention of killing innocent human beings"? From Sherman's March to the Sea to the bombing of Dresden, not to mention the Indian Wars, the Suppression of the Phillippines Insurrection, the My Lai Massacre, and the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the US has always targeted innocent civilians during war. We targeted innocent civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan as we recklessly spread depleted uranium throughout civilian areas and used cluster bombs in areas where we knew there were civilians. Our war-makers always intentionally target civilians - despite numerous claims to the contrary made by highly trained public relations strategists - because in their minds, to defeat the enemy, we must absolutely terrorize him and all he has, and that includes the civilian populations. That's what modern war is all about. To deny that is at best Orwellian.
Consider the statements of Archbishop O'Brien, of the Archdiocese of Military Services - who in response to Bishop Botean's canonical declaration that the war was unjust (a declaration found nowhere at the US Bishops' website, by the way) - told the troops that "it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments, and therefore to carry out their military duties in good conscience." Said duties including, presumably, the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions and bringing about the deaths of several hundred thousand people, most of whom have been women and children. If Catholic soldiers can do this "in good conscience", as the Archbishop assures us, then the moral witness of the Catholic Church to life has been degraded to nothing.
I have heard directly from members of the armed forces who tell me that Catholic chaplains preach that the Iraq war is a just war. If that isn't pastoral malpractice, I don't know what pastoral malpractice would be, considering the fact that the Iraq war does not meet the tests of the Just War teaching of the Church and Pope John Paul II himself declared the war to be immoral and unjust. Shouldn't we expect that the Archdiocese of Military Services, and the Catholic chaplains under its authority, would be in union with the Pope instead of marginalizing his message? The Catholic members of the armed forces of the United States, who are brave and generous in offering their lives in service to their country, deserve better than to be sold down the river with honey-coated words of deceit advocating participation in an immoral war and unjust occupation from their own archbishop.
Through the last four years, many bishops spoke of the Iraq war as though it was some sort of abstract concept, to be studied in safety and comfort from a distance. Rarely do they confront the idea that we are not talking about abstract concepts here, but rather about real life. Contrary to the moral relativism expressed by most of the bishops, 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 has a moral reality, and it cannot be just and unjust at the same time. The bishops, with their many repeated declarations that "people of good faith can come to different conclusions about the war", seem to have missed that little detail. While people of good faith can indeed come to different conclusions about war in general, and the Iraq War in particular, not all of those opinions are in accordance with the Gospel of Life.
Those who believe and teach that the Iraq war is just are wrong.
They do the work of demons who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
They are assisted in their demonic crusade by bishops who proclaim that "nobody can really know the truth about the justice or injustice of a war," or "people can come to different conclusions about this war and that's fine with us".
Pontius Pilate was personally against the execution of Jesus Christ, but he did not use his legal authority to prevent it. What can we say then about bishops who on one hand imply that a war is unjust, but on the other hand refuse to use their canonical authority to hinder participation in it?
If you saw the entire issue of the Oklahoma City Catholic Worker in which the Liturgy and War article appeared, then perhaps you also saw Mark Twain's War Prayer. In this essay, written as a response to earlier unjust aggression by the US government, Mark Twain envisages a heavenly being who enters a religious service where prayers are being said for victory and protection in war. He tells the startled assembly that to pray for "victory" in war is to pray for everything included in that victory, and that of course includes killing, maiming, ruining, and destroying.
So it is with Bishop Wenski and all the other bishops who want us to remain in Iraq for a "responsible transition." I am glad Bishop Wenski is "concerned" for the lives of innocents, but he should have shown that concern in 2003 by joining Bishop Botean in issuing a canonical declaration forbidding participation in the Iraq War as the moral equivalent of willing participation in abortion. But he didn't do that, did he? So having tacitly given permission to everyone under his ecclesiastical jurisdiction to murder, bomb, maim, and destroy in Iraq, I think it is a bit late for him to be expressing his "concerns" for the innocent who are caught in the crossfire of our "splendid little war". Several hundred thousand of those innocents are now dead. They had lives, futures, hopes and dreams - fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, cousins. There were foods that they liked and foods they disliked. They told jokes and laughed and mourned when someone died. They were real people, as real as any bishop. They deserve better than to be depersonalized into non-existence by bishops who can't see the human personhood of Iraqi civilians and thus feel free to arrogantly dispose of them as they will and marginalize them into non-existence.
Bishop Wenski and the other bishops endorsing this "responsible transition" statement are in fact demanding that our will be imposed on the Iraqi people. If that continues to seem incomprehensible to you, that is because you are reading his remarks, and he is making his comments, from the viewpoint of the rich and the powerful. Tell me now - admit publicly to the whole world - how many more thousands of Iraqi lives are you and the bishops willing to sacrifice to ensure a "responsible transition" in Iraq? Our troops there aren't protecting anyone, they are only making the situation worse and more violent.
As to the viewpoint of the Iraqi church, it is too bad the bishops callously turned their backs on them in 2002-2003 and refused to issue canonical declarations against the war in Iraq, thus giving the people under their ecclesiastical authority tacit permission to bomb, murder, and destroy the people under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Church in Iraq. You cannot deny that the bishops have effectively given this permission with their many expressions of moral relativism and moral laxism regarding the Iraq War: Sine poena nulla lex - without penalty, there is no law. I am sure the Catholic bishops are as familiar with this principle of Roman jurisprudence as a lowly Catholic Worker like me.
By refusing to issue canonical declarations against the war - by preaching moral relativism and moral laxism regarding the murder of the innocent in the Iraq War - by ceding to the federal government the "right" to make the moral judgment as to whether the war was just or not - the bishops have tacitly supported unjust war and occupation.
You say the Church in Iraq wants us to stay. Yesterday there was a news report that Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk apparently opposes your plans. It is evident that the Church in Iraq is effectively voting with their feet and is not united in its desire for a continuation of the occupation. The news suggests that half of the Christian population has left that nation and more are leaving every week. Willing complicity in the destruction of those ancient communities is one more sin that stains the honor and moral witness of the Catholic Church of these United States. If the bishops had wanted a better outcome than that which we face now, they should have made better decisions in 2002-2003.
In calling for this "responsible transition", the bishops speak as wealthy, powerful, and arrogant Americans who are convinced that "we know best" what should happen there. They refuse to understand that there are limits to what military power can accomplish. It is now 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. There is nothing that we can do about this. All of this became inevitable the moment we invaded - an invasion that was made vastly easier and more comfortable for all concerned by the refusal of all of the U.S. bishops save one to issue a canonical declaration against participation in the war.
You claim our invasion brought with it "new moral responsibilities to stabilize and rebuild the nation." This is a tired justification for imperialism and has no credibility. The people of Iraq are fully qualified to rebuild their nation. They do not need the merciless American government to "help". People are fond of saying these days that "we broke it, we have to fix it now." Actually, a better analogy would be the bull who wrecks the china shop. To clean up the situation, to make it better, first the bull must be removed from the shop.
If the bishops think there is something remaining for us to do in Iraq, it is because they are deluded by that internal sense of Manifest Destiny that is drilled into Americans from childhood onwards. But in the real world, the truth of the Gospel prevails: all they who take the sword will perish by the sword, and the United States will not be an exception to this eternal truth that was enunciated by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, King and God of the entire Universe. Our nation is headed straight for the ash heap of history. Instead of playing geo-political games in the Middle East, the bishops should be thinking about what is going to happen right here at home when our nation does collapse onto the ash heap of history. But they won't do that, because they are blind guides leading the blind, and the ditch that is straight ahead of them is invisible because they close their eyes to the terrible and awful calamities that loom in the future for these United States of America. In the months and years to come, as the consequences of our reckless imperialism and military adventurism in the Middle East becomes more apparent, the bishops will bitterly wish they had made better decisions, but by then it will be too late. "Sow not in furrows of injustice, lest you reap a seven-fold harvest."
I continue to pray for the repentance and conversion of our bishops, and I will continue to publicly call them to account for their callous and wicked attitude towards the long-suffering people of Iraq. The present college of United States bishops is a scandal before the entire world, and your defense of them is unworthy of the position of trust which you hold. You should be the defender of the poor before these immoral bishops, instead, you make excuses for their wickedness and enable them to evade the consequences of their actions. You may do as you please, but I will not damn my soul to hell by silence in the face of this grave scandal nor will I materially cooperate with this terrible evil.
Yours in solidarity with the poor of Iraq,
Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House