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NEWS STORY: Church Leaders Step Up Criticism of Looming War with Iraq

c. 2003 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Two major religious leaders _ Pope John Paul II and the head of the U.S. Episcopal Church _ on Monday (Jan. 13) criticized the looming U.S. war against Iraq. The new statements came as the United States beefed up its deployment of troops in the Persian Gulf region and […]

c. 2003 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Two major religious leaders _ Pope John Paul II and the head of the U.S. Episcopal Church _ on Monday (Jan. 13) criticized the looming U.S. war against Iraq.

The new statements came as the United States beefed up its deployment of troops in the Persian Gulf region and lawmakers expressed pessimism that a war against Saddam Hussein could be avoided.

Nevertheless, Pope John Paul II implored Washington to look for peaceful options to settle its differences with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

“War is not always inevitable,” the Roman Catholic pontiff declared in his annual New Year’s address to envoys from the 174 countries with which the Vatican has diplomatic relations.

“War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations,” he said.

In words that appeared pointedly directed to Washington and London _ the nations pressing toward a military confrontation with Iraq, John Paul said war “is always a defeat for humanity.

“International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between states, the noble exercise of diplomacy: These are the methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences.”

John Paul criticized leaders who “place their trust in nuclear weapons” and armed force and referred directly to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land as well as the threat of war in Iraq.

The solution to “the constant degeneration of the crisis in the Middle East,” John Paul said, “will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution.” Israelis and Palestinians, he said, “are called to live side-by-side, equally free and sovereign, in mutual respect.”

“And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo?” the pope asked.

The 82-year-old pontiff, speaking slowly and in French, told the diplomats that the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself, “remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations.”

The pope also strongly opposed the U.S.-led attack on Iraq following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. He sent personal letters to then-President George Bush and Saddam urging a peaceful settlement. The Vatican said that Desert Storm did not meet its criteria for a “just war” because disproportionate force was used against Iraq.

Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Vatican’s former permanent observer at the United Nations, told a news conference Dec. 17 that the Vatican would consider a preventive war against Iraq “a war of aggression.”

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church, in an interview with Religion News Service, was also sharply critical of the Bush administration and its foreign policy, especially toward Iraq and Bush’s use of the religious language of an “axis of evil.”

“Quite apart from the bombs we drop, words are weapons and we have used our language so unwisely, so intemperately, so thoughtlessly … that I’m not surprised we are hated and loathed everywhere I go,” he said.

“I’d like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologize for being from the United States,” he added.

Griswold said Bush is “inviting” trouble from the other points on the “axis of evil” _ Iran and North Korea _ with his bellicose rhetoric, although he acknowledged Bush is “hardly dealing with paragons of virtue” in either case.

Griswold, the head of the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church, used some of his strongest language to criticize the disconnect between the country’s God-talk and the values of the Christian gospel, which he said emphasizes care for the poor, the downtrodden and the hungry.

“If these are God’s values and we claim to be a nation under God, then we better take them seriously, or we better take the words away and say it’s a joke, or it’s a piece of decoration.”


He stressed, as he and other mainline Protestant church leaders have before, that a preemptive strike against Iraq would not meet the criteria of the “just war.”

Last week, a 13-member delegation of the National Council of Churches, of which the Episcopal Church is a member, returned from a visit to Iraq and, like the pope on Monday, declared “war is not inevitable.”

“A war against Iraq will make the United States less secure, not more secure,” the NCC-delegation said, adding that “a preemptive war is immoral and illegal.”

In his speech, John Paul invoked a litany of the world’s trouble spots.

“I have been personally struck by the feeling of fear which often dwells in the hearts of our contemporaries,” John Paul said.

“An insidious terrorism capable of striking at any time and anywhere; the unresolved problem of the Middle East, with the Holy Land and Iraq; the turmoil disrupting South America, particularly Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela; the conflicts preventing numerous African countries from focusing on their development; the diseases spreading contagion and death; the grave problem of famine, especially in Africa; the irresponsible behavior contributing to the depletion of the planet’s resources: All these are so many plagues threatening the survival of humanity, the peace of individuals and the security of society,” he said.

`Yet everything can change. It depends on each of us. Everyone can develop within himself his potential for faith, for honesty, for respect of others and for commitment to the service of others,” the pope said. “It also depends, quite obviously, on political leaders, who are called to serve the common good.”

Polk reported from Vatican City, Eckstrom from Washington


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