In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the bishops made four concrete proposals which they think could help protect Christians and other religious minorities from deliberate violence against them in the war-torn region.
The bishops said they deplore the sectarian violence engulfing the Shia and Sunni communities in Iraq, but they are especially concerned about the “deliberate violence perpetrated against Christians and other vulnerable minorities.”
“The growing and deliberate targeting of Christians is an ominous sign of the breakdown in Iraqi society of civil order and inter-religious respect and represents a grave violation of human rights and religious liberty,” reads the bishops’ letter.
The letter mentions in particular the recent beheading of a Syriac Orthodox priest in Mosul, the crucifixion of a Christian teenager in Albasra, the frequent kidnappings for ransom of Christians, including four priests, the rape of Christian women and teenage girls, and the bombings of churches.
According to the U.S. bishops, Christians in Iraq continue to decline from a pre-war population of more than 1.2 million to a current estimate of about 600,000.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that approximately 44 percent of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, and Turkey are Christian, even though they represent only about 4 percent of the total population of Iraq. Some are fleeing to the north of Iraq as well.
In an effort to offer security to Christians and other religious minorities, the bishops are urging the U.S. government to consider the creation of a new “Administrative Region” in the Nineveh Plain Area that would be directly related to the central government in Baghdad.
“This could provide Christians and other minorities with greater safety and offer more opportunity to control their own affairs with assistance from the central government,” the letter reads.
The bishops also recommend that the U.S. government work with the Kurdish authorities in the north to ensure the safety of Christians in the Plain of Nineveh and to provide adequate protection and assistance for religious minorities in areas controlled directly by the Kurds.
The bishops urged an urgent review of economic reconstruction aid programs to ensure that aid is distributed fairly and reconstruction is possible in all segments of society.
Finally, the bishops urged the U.S. government to adopt a more generous refugee and asylum policy, including the possible resettlement of at-risk cases to the United States.
The bishops indicated they would like to meet with Rice to discuss the situation and their proposals further.
The letter was sent by Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Policy on behalf of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
.- The U.S. bishops are calling on the Bush administration to secure the safety of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.