The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a “substantive, civil and non-partisan” national debate on the nature of U.S. involvement in Iraq and alternative choices about how to move forward in the Middle Eastern country.
In a statement issued Jan. 12 from Jerusalem, Bishop William Skylstad said the dialogue is “urgent at this moment of national discussion and decision.” The bishop is currently in the Holy Land for a meeting with representatives of bishops’ conferences from North America and Europe.
“At this critical juncture as our nation seeks a new way forward in Iraq, our leaders have a moral obligation to examine where things genuinely stand in pursuing justice and peace in Iraq, to assess what is actually achievable there, and to evaluate the moral and human consequences of alternative courses of action and whether they truly contribute to a responsible transition,” Bishop Skylstad said.
He said new proposals for how to move forward must be judged by a key moral question: “How can the U.S. bring about a responsible transition in Iraq?”
“Each course of action, including current policies, ought to be evaluated in light of our nation’s moral responsibility to help Iraqis to live with security and dignity in the aftermath of U.S. military action,” Bishop Skylstad said.
“Our nation’s military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence actually contributes to a responsible transition. Our nation should seek effective ways to end their deployment at the earliest opportunity consistent with this goal,” he said.
Determining when a responsible transition can be met will include reaching certain benchmarks, such as minimally acceptable levels of security; economic reconstruction to create employment for Iraqis; stronger political structures and greater respect for religious freedom and basic human rights, the bishop continued.
Bishop Skylstad added that there is a need for “broader regional and international engagement” to increase security, stability and reconstruction in Iraq and for more sustained U.S. leadership to address conflicts in that region, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the crisis in Lebanon.
“The Holy See and our bishops’ conference expressed grave moral concerns about military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of invasion and occupation. They also expressed alarm in the deteriorating situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.”
“As pastors and bishops we are deeply concerned for the lives and dignity of the people of Iraq who suffer so much and for the men and women in the U.S. military who serve bravely, generously and at great risk,” he added.