Western Church leaders warn against intervention in Syria
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
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
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
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,
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Editor's Note: The full text of Bishop Pates' letter
can be read online at http://bit.ly/14dTJAK.
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