The U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference on Tuesday released a statement calling for a responsible transition of power in Iraq in preparation for a gradual American withdrawal.
"As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers in Baltimore, our thoughts and prayers are with our military personnel in Iraq, their families, and all the suffering people of Iraq," the statement begins.
Bishop Thomas Wenski, of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Florida, chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Policy, summarized the statement: "We don't advocate for retreat. Neither do we advocate staying the course. We advocate for responsible transition" that takes into account the humanitarian crisis that the war has precipitated, he said.
The statement itself explained the place of the bishops in the discussion of Iraq policy, saying "we do not have specific competence in political, economic and military strategies and do not assess particular tactics, but we can, as teachers, share a moral tradition to help inform policy choices. Our Catholic teaching on war and peace offers hard questions, not easy answers. Our nation must now focus more on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention."
"The grave moral concerns we and others raised prior to the war now give way to new moral questions," the statement declared.
The moral questions the bishops perceived included how to minimize further loss of life, how to achieve the best result while doing the least harm, how to evaluate the financial costs and global consequences of the war and occupation, and how to counter religious sects and ideologies that support terrorism.
The bishops voiced support for Iraqi Christians in particular, declaring "the suffering of the Christian community has a particular claim on our hearts and consciences. We remain in solidarity with the suffering Catholic Church in Iraq, and welcome with joy the naming of Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad to the College of Cardinals by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI."
The Iraqi refugee situation was also mentioned. Two million refugees have left the country, while another two million have been internally displaced. The bishops encouraged commitments to policies that would ease refugees' plight.
"Iraq’s future stability is related to the stability of the region," the bishops said. They endorsed a just peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a means to help stabilize Iraq.
Those who serve in the American military were also to be supported. "Our concern for human life and dignity extends to the members of our own military. We support those who risk their lives in the service of our nation and recognize their generous commitment," the statement read.
The bishops reminded policymakers to take into account the effects of wartime duties on military personnel and their families, while not forgetting the obligation to address the human, medical, and social costs of military action.
The statement also affirmed the right to both complete and selective conscientious objection to military action.
Bishop William Skylstad, outgoing president of the bishops' conference, summed up the statement's objectives: "We hope that this [statement] really pushes forward strongly a call for responsible transition. For someway, somehow to move forward into a transitional situation where there is investment and support for the refugees and displaced people within Iraq. All of those are humanitarian crises that need to be addressed. And for us to delay any longer our timing, even longer than a year, I think is unconscionable."