Roman Catholic bishops see U.S. right to use force in fighting terrorism

Thursday, November 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation's Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly supported the United States' right to use military force against international terrorism Thursday.

However, the bishops said the response must be part of a broader foreign policy that alleviates poverty, stops human rights abuses and helps to end violence.

``Without in any way excusing indefensible terrorist acts, we still need to address those conditions of poverty and injustice which are exploited by terrorists,'' the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in the proclamation.

The statement was approved on the final day of this week's gathering in which the bishops elected their first black president, Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., and updated their anti-abortion plan to highlight opposition to human embryo research, euthanasia and the death penalty.

The conference also expressed concern for the plight of Africans and welcomed the growing number of Asian immigrants in the church.

The war statement attempted to reflect the range of views among the bishops, from pacifists who see no justification for the war, to clergy who hoped for a stronger statement of support for the Bush administration.

The bishops urged world leaders to lift economic sanctions against Iraq and help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while more equitably spreading the benefits of globalization.

``It offers a moral framework, not a long series of specific judgments,'' said Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who led the committee that wrote the document. ``It lifts up key challenges but it does not seek to answer all the questions.''

The group voted 167-4 in support of the document.

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit was among the few who opposed the proclamation, arguing it violated Christ's teachings to love your enemies. He questioned whether the airstrikes against Afghanistan were truly just.

``We are in a war situation where our own government tells us that there's not going to be peace at the end of this. We have to be prepared for other attacks,'' Gumbleton said. ``What kind of wisdom is it to carry out a war when we know the only outcome is going to be further war?''

Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Texas, who just finished his three-year term as president, argued the document was balanced.

``These terrorist threats cannot go unanswered. We have a right to self-defense,'' Fiorenza said. ``But we wanted to be pastoral in understanding heartbreak, grief and pain. Our desire is to bring a great sense of hope to those who have suffered.''

On Wednesday, the conference approved a document called ``Campaign in Support of Life,'' which urged Catholics to continue to lobby public officials and the general public to support the church's positions.

The bishops said they were encouraged by a decline in abortions and new state laws that restrict the procedure. But they noted their failure to reverse the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Diversity was a focus of much of the meeting. Gregory said he hoped his election sent a message that the church embraces those from all ethnic backgrounds. The 63.7 million-member denomination is predominantly white, but is growing increasingly mixed as more Hispanics and Asians come to this country.

The bishops specifically acknowledged Asian Catholics at the meeting, approving a proclamation that asks parishioners to be more attentive to the immigrants' spiritual needs. Asians comprise about 2.6 percent of U.S. Catholics.

Regarding Africa, the conference called on the United States to build new links to the continent by increasing humanitarian aid, easing debt burdens and forging trade agreements.

The bishops also approved amendments to canon law outlining when laymen can preach in church. The changes, meant in part to address a shortage of priests and the needs of non-English speaking parishioners, were first proposed two years ago. The Vatican still must approve any revisions.