Statement of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) And the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)
Regarding the War with Iraq 
March 20, 2003

We are deeply saddened by the course of events that have led our nation to war with Iraq.  After months of negotiations, arms inspections, and diplomatic efforts, President Bush has decided to act with little support from the international community and without the sanction of the United Nations to oust Saddam Hussein from leadership in Iraq.  He has also ignored the widespread voices of religious leaders around the world, including the unequivocal voice of John Paul II, who condemns the doctrine of pre-emption upon which the attack is based.  We now live in a much less safe world than we did before the attack.  This approach to self-defense could well be used to justify a much more violent world as it spreads into the vocabulary and practice of nations.

At the outset of the crisis leading to this action, the President stated that the goal of the U.S. and the international community was disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.  That worthy goal continued to shift as the U.N. arms inspectors were not able to uncover evidence of these weapons and as Iraq slowly started destroying weapons that were discovered.    At that point, the goal was no longer disarming Iraq but replacing the Iraqi government.  As the goal shifted, so did international opinion.  We genuinely do not know the status of these weapons in Iraq but this is a tragic price to pay in human lives for such knowledge.  The issue of how evidence will be assessed in the use of the doctrine of preemption has not been addressed and cries out for resolution as the debate in the Security Council collapsed.  Will the one asserting the doctrine now be free also to assess single-handedly the evidence upon which preemptive action is taken?

No one actively seeks war.  The work of these Conferences over the past months along with many other groups was to help foster alternative ways that war could be avoided and to find paths to a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this crisis.  We were motivated by our concern for the millions of lives – innocent Iraqi civilians and the young U.S. military personnel ordered into battle– once a war would start.  Now that the Administration has made the decision to go to war, our concern grows, even as our focus must now shift

We pray for the millions of innocent Iraqi civilians who are living in the war zone.  They have suffered from years of the most brutal oppression under Saddam Hussein, the destruction caused by the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War, and the decade of isolation and economic deprivation caused by the international sanctions.  Once again they will bear the brunt of the suffering in this war.  The death of one innocent civilian is one death too many. The destruction of one hospital, orphanage, school, or any civilian institution by human or computer error is one institution too many.  They bear an intolerable share of the burden of the policy consequences that led to this war.  As usual, they were the least consulted and will suffer the most in this war.  We must in the name of God and all that is decent and just find other mechanisms for resolving international conflicts than this continuous unleashing of wholesale destruction upon the most innocent and powerless of the earth.  Their voices cry out to God for mercy—a mercy that we can grant.

We also pray for the safety of the men and women in the US military in Iraq and for their families and loved ones.  Before the military action began our Conferences with a host of U.S. and world religious leaders actively addressed the moral and spiritual concerns raised by this war.  Now that war has started, we will continue our vigilance and sharing our experience from the perspective of our thousands of religious around the world working in the midst of violence

While our first concern is for the lives that are now in danger we are also profoundly concerned about the long-range policy issues that this war can affect.  The doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against a perceived threat that the President has adopted sets a precedent for other nations to follow in narrow self-interest making the use of force a valid first option over diplomacy and peaceful negotiation. Following the horrendous wars, conflicts, and genocides of the last century, nations worked toward building international institutions, a body of international humanitarian law, and mechanisms for multilateral cooperation in order to bring about a stable peace rooted in justice.  We are concerned that the United Nations, the only international institution where all nations, regardless of size or power, have an opportunity to address the major issues facing our world will be weakened just when the need for such an institution is more necessary than ever.  We believe that multilateral action in a world increasingly drawn closer because of the effects of globalization is the only effective way to address conflicts in our world. Finally we are concerned that the image of U.S. leadership and its power for good in the world will be irreparably damaged and that the threat of future terrorist attacks against the U.S. and U.S. citizens has been increased rather than decreased by this action.

As the war begins we strongly urge the Administration to publicly, emphatically, and once for all rule out the use of nuclear weapons by the United States during this war.  The use of a weapon of mass destruction by any side not only violates international covenants and the standards of a just and moral war; it will unleash unimaginable horrors for humanity.

We are also concerned about reports that the Administration may allow the use of antipersonnel landmines during this war.  We have written to the President to express our opposition to the use of these weapons that have been banned by all but two nations – one of them being the United States.  There are already thousands of landmines in Iraq remaining from the Gulf War and the war with Iran.  These landmines have posed an immediate danger to the civilians of Iraq as well as our own military personnel.  Any further use of them only increases the danger and leaves another host of dangerous fields for the maiming and killing of innocent civilians, often women and children.

The task of seeking peace will continue and be intensified in the midst of war even though history has shown that it now will become more difficult as a myriad of unforeseen consequences begin to emerge.  This is not an easy task, but it is the task of every follower of Jesus whose final gift to his disciples was peace. As religious, we commit ourselves to the paths of peace and to walking with those who will be most affected by this war until we can say, like the prophet Isaiah:  “Comfort, yes, comfort my people and cry out to them that their warfare is ended” (Isaiah 40:1-2).  Are we ready to join in this task revealed to us as the very cause of God among us?  We join with religious people all over the world to recommit ourselves to that cause.

Sr. Mary Ann Zollmann, BVM             
Leadership Conference of Women Religious          

Very Rev. Canice Connors, OFM Conv.
Conference of Major Superiors of Men