Response to the "Call for Dialogue and Action on Responsible Transition in Iraq," from Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,

by Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City

The bishops' November 13th statement is the latest in a series of morally problematic statements on Iraq from the U.S. Bishops' Conference. The bishops ignore their own responsibility for our nation's disastrous policies in Iraq, inflate their reputation as peacemakers, and effectively call for even more war to bring about a "responsible transition" in Iraq.

Contrary to the misleading impression given by Bishop Skylstad's statement, the response of the U.S. Catholic bishops, as a conference and as individual bishops -- with one exception - to the 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 can 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.

Over the past month 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. 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 since 2002 (that can be found on the Internet, retired and auxiliary bishop statements were not researched.)

Only one bishop responsible for a diocese issued a canonical declaration against involvement with the war in Iraq, Bishop Botean of the Romanian Catholic diocese of 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.

By refusing to issue similar declarations, the other bishops gave tacit 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 bishops now claim that our unjust war gives us "new moral responsibilities to stabilize and rebuild the nation," 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 materially cooperated with the evil of unjust war, this November 13th document is a work of religious hypocrisy.

Robert Waldrop
Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House
1524 NW 21
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73106

For more information on this subject, at much greater length, see my "Response to Stephen Colecchi".