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18430Western Church leaders warn against intervention in Syria

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
    Aug 30, 2013
      Western church leaders warn against intervention in

      By Catholic News

      WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As speculation mounted about
      Western air strikes on Syria, a committee of U.S. bishops called for a political
      solution, and Catholic leaders in Europe warned military intervention could lead
      to an escalation of hostilities.

      In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State
      John Kerry, the chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and
      Peace reiterated what Pope Francis and Jordan's King Abdullah II said Aug. 29,
      that "the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian
      society, with the support of the international community, is the only option" to
      end the conflict in Syria.

      The committee reiterated its long-standing
      position that "the Syrian people urgently need a political solution that ends
      the fighting and creates a future ... that respects religious rights and
      religious freedom."

      The letter, signed by the committee chairman, Bishop
      Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, called on the U.S. to work with other
      governments to pursue negotiations and a cease-fire.

      In a column in
      Austria's Heute daily, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn said that "taking up
      arms can only be a last resort."

      "Were previous weapons programs
      successful in this region, and did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bring peace?
      What good can bombs do in a country already bleeding from a thousand wounds?" he

      The president of the German bishops' conference also criticized
      plans for the strikes and said the U.N.-backed International Criminal Court
      should be allowed to investigate an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus,

      The head of the German bishops' commission for international
      church affairs, Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, told the Catholic news
      agency KNA Aug. 28 an armed intervention could not be justified in Catholic
      teaching, which required "total certainty of the confirmed damage," as well as
      "serious chance of success" and a capacity to avoid "worse damage than that to
      be eliminated."

      U.S. President Barack Obama said he was convinced the
      Syrian government carried out the attack, but Syrian President Bashar Assad's
      government blamed rebels who have been fighting the government since 2011. U.N.
      weapons inspectors were supposed to report on the situation to U.N.
      Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Aug. 31.

      "These are weapons of mass
      destruction, whose use is outlawed by international law -- if the crime by
      Damascus remains unanswered, then an important component of international law
      will come under pressure, with potentially devastating consequences for
      international security," Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, German bishops' president,
      said Aug. 28.

      He added that "the goal of military action must be defined,
      and it has to be asked whether a military strike might not lead to an unintended
      escalation of hostilities."

      The British Parliament voted against
      involvement in strikes Aug. 29.

      However, French President Francois
      Hollande said the vote had not altered his country's resolve to take action,
      while U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Washington would continue seeking
      a coalition for possible strikes.

      Earlier, warnings against military
      intervention were voiced by church leaders in the Middle East, including
      Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem; Syrian-born Melkite
      Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; and Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of

      Meanwhile, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of
      ecumenical relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, said, more victims would
      be "sacrificed on the altar of an imagined democracy" if strikes took place and
      Syria's Christians would suffer from "radical extremist forces taking power with
      U.S. help."

      Poised to act without United Nations approval, he said, the
      United States "wishes to decide the fate of a whole country with millions of

      Russia is an ally of Assad and has been vigorously opposing
      outside intervention in the Syria conflict.

      By Aug. 30, Catholic bishops'
      conferences in France and Britain had not issued statements on the projected

      However, the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop
      Justin Welby of Canterbury, spoke against strikes in the Parliament debate.
      Earlier, he told the London-based Daily Telegraph he believed there was a "range
      of options between passivity and total regime change" in Syria.

      Conference of European Churches, which represents more than a hundred
      non-Catholic churches, said Aug. 28 the use of chemical weapons was a "severe
      and alarming escalation."

      "We pray that any decision taken will primarily
      consider the good of the Syrian people and not the exigencies of politics," it

      More than 100,000 people are estimated to have died in Syria's
      civil war, and 1.7 million have been made homeless.

      - -

      Contributing to this story was Jonathan Luxmoore in Warsaw,

      - - -

      Editor's Note: The full text of Bishop Pates' letter
      can be read online at http://bit.ly/14dTJAK.


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