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Monday, January 16, 2006

Catholic Bishops Call for “Responsible Transition” in Iraq

Calling for a national civil dialogue that will lead to a responsible transition in Iraq, the Chairman of the Committee on International Policy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said such a dialogue can help our nation chart a course of action that meets both the “moral and human dimensions of the situation in Iraq.”

“Our nation cannot afford a shrill and shallow debate that distorts reality and reduces the options to ‘cut and run’ versus ‘stay the course,’” said Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando. “Instead we need a forthright discussion that begins with an honest assessment of the situation in Iraq and acknowledges both the mistakes that have been made and the signs of hope that have appeared. Most importantly, an honest assessment of our moral responsibilities toward Iraq should commit our nation to a policy of responsible transition…. Our nation’s military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as it takes for a responsible transition, leaving sooner rather than later.”

Bishop Wenski’s statement, “Toward a Responsible Transition in Iraq,” was made public January 12.

“The central moral question is not just the timing of US withdrawal, but rather the nature and extent of U.S. and international engagement that allows for a responsible transition to security and stability for the Iraqi people,” Bishop Wenski stated.

“Our nation is at a crossroads in Iraq,” Bishop Wenski said. “We must avoid two directions that distort reality and limit appropriate responses. We must resist a pessimism that might move our nation to abandon the moral responsibilities it accepted in using force and might tempt us to withdraw prematurely from Iraq without regard for moral and human consequences. We must reject an optimism that fails to acknowledge clearly past mistakes, failed intelligence, and inadequate planning related to Iraq, and minimizes the serious challenges and human costs that lie ahead.”

Bishop Wenski noted that “our bishops’ Conference repeatedly expressed grave moral concerns about the military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of an invasion and occupation…. At the same time, our nation cannot just look back. The intervention in Iraq has brought with it a new set of moral responsibilities to help Iraqis secure and rebuild their country.”

A responsible transition in Iraq means establishing a series of basic benchmarks, including: “achieving adequate levels of security; establishing the rule of law; promoting economic reconstruction to help create reasonable levels of employment and economic opportunity; and supporting the development of political structures to advance stability, political participation, and respect for religious freedom and basic human rights,” Bishop Wenski said.

Four key challenges to a responsible transition cited by Bishop Wenski include:
• terrorism, and this nation’s response to it;
• violation of the human rights of persons in the custody of U.S. and Iraqi forces;
• threats to religious liberty and religious minorities in Iraq; the plight of refugees;
• and meeting other responsibilities of our nation.

Terrorism: “Our Conference unequivocally condemns all terrorist attacks, especially those that target civilians,” Bishop Wenski said. “When tactical military responses are required, we must never forget that the wider struggle with terrorism, together with our basic moral commitments and legal obligations, demands respect for human rights.”

“In light of deeply disturbing and continuing reports of persistent violations of the human rights of persons in the custody of U.S. military and… the reconstituted Iraqi forces, our bishops’ Conference once again urges immediate steps be taken to end these violations, to prevent future occurrences, and to discover how they came about,” the Bishop said.

Religious Freedom: Bishop Wenski said religious liberty is a “foundational freedom that is critical to a just and lasting peace in Iraq. Full religious freedom for all persons and all religious bodies in Iraq would contribute to stability and help avoid sectarian conflict,” he said. “Without guarantees of religious freedom, the ability of minority religious bodies to bridge sectarian divisions, which they have often done in the past, and to contribute to the rebirth of a democratic and prosperous Iraq could be undermined…. A truly democratic Iraq must continue to accommodate its religious, especially Christian, minorities.”

Refugees: Concerning refugees, Bishop Wenski said that “The war and ongoing instability in Iraq have resulted in a significant flow of refugees from Iraq, especially among Christians and other religious minorities who suffer attacks and discrimination.” He noted that Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad has pleaded with Western governments to protect Iraqi refugees.

“Our Conference urges the United States and the international community to provide greater support and attention to the plight of Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers,” Bishop Wenski said. “We continue to believe that US policy toward Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers is too restrictive.”

Other US Responsibilities: “The very costly conflict in Iraq demands a major commitment of human and financial resources, but Iraq cannot become an excuse for ignoring other pressing needs at home and abroad, especially our moral responsibilities toward the poor in our own nation and in developing countries,” Bishop Wenski stated. “Our Conference reiterates the need to protect the poor at home and abroad in setting our national priorities.”

Bishop Wenski said the Bishops want to express care and concern to the members of the military and their families “who find themselves in the midst of this terrible conflict. We also affirm the extraordinarily important work of military chaplains.”

This nation “must act with a constructive and informed realism that helps us to learn from the past and to move forward,” Bishop Wenski said. “More immediately, our nation must engage in serious and civil dialogue in order to walk a difficult path toward a responsible transition that seeks to help Iraqis take responsibility for building a better future for themselves — a future that contributes to peace in the region and beyond. This national dialogue must begin with a search for the ‘truth’ of where we find ourselves in Iraq and not with a search for political advantage or justifications for past positions.”

Follow this link to read the full text of Bishop Wenski’s statement "Toward a Responsible Transition in Iraq."

  • (This update is courtesy of US Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

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