Bishops Urge U.S. to Transition Out of Iraq
In a statement sent to Bush and Congress, Catholic prelates
avoid the word "withdrawal," but say American troops should
leave "sooner than later."
By Larry B. Stammer
Times Staff Writer
Angeles Times" -- -- Declaring that the United
States was at a crossroads in Iraq, the nation's Roman Catholic
bishops said Thursday the time had come to withdraw U.S. troops
as fast as responsibly possible and to hand control of the
country to Iraqis.
"Our nation's military forces should remain in Iraq only as long
as it takes for a responsible transition, leaving sooner than
later," said Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., speaking
for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Wenski, chairman of the bishops Committee on International
Policy, said recent statements by the Bush administration that
troop levels would be reduced were not enough. He said the U.S.
must send an unmistakable signal that the goal was not to occupy
Iraq "for an indeterminate period," but to help Iraqis assume
full control of their government.
The eight-page statement, in the works for months and delivered
to the White House and members of Congress on Thursday, was
candid in its assessment of the war, which U.S. bishops and the
late pope, John Paul II, had opposed from the start.
It underscored failures but also highlighted successes in the
nearly three years since the U.S.-led invasion. Weapons of mass
destruction were not found; more than 2,200 American troops and
tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed; U.S.-held
prisoners were tortured and mistreated; and violence was
continuing in the streets.
The bishops said they remained "highly skeptical" of Bush's
doctrine of "preventive war." But they also saw signs of hope,
including the Iraqi elections.
"Our nation cannot afford a shrill and shallow debate that
distorts reality and reduces the options to 'cut and run' versus
'stay the course,' " Wenski wrote, speaking for the bishops
In an interview Thursday, Wenski said the bishops purposely
decided to avoid the word "withdrawal" in favor of "transition"
to avoid the impression that bishops were advocating that the
U.S. "cut and run."
"No matter what the debate might have been about going into
Iraq, now that we are there, our presence gives us a whole set
of new moral obligations that we have to try to fulfill in a
responsible way," Wenski said.
"Our nation is at a crossroads in Iraq," the statement said. "We
must resist a pessimism that might move our nation to abandon
the moral responsibilities it accepted in using force, and might
tempt us to withdraw prematurely from Iraq without regard for
moral and human consequences.
"We must [also] reject an optimism that fails to acknowledge
clearly past mistakes, failed intelligence, and inadequate
planning related to Iraq, and minimizes the serious challenges
and human costs that lie ahead," it said.
John Carr, a senior staffer on the Catholic bishops committee,
said the statement was intended to set the stage for what
bishops hoped would be a vigorous but civil discussion on what
the U.S. must do next.
"Candidly, there seems to be more talk on Sunday morning TV talk
shows than there is in the Congress or within the Bush
administration, at least in the public sense," Carr said. "The
great temptation is to try to justify past policies instead of
acknowledging where we are and what we need to do."
On Thursday, Catholic bishops forcefully restated their
abhorrence to torture and said the U.S. must live up to
constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment,
and abide by international accords outlawing torture.
Bishops were careful not to criticize U.S. troops. By raising
"grave moral questions" about the decision to invade Iraq,
bishops said they were not questioning "the moral integrity of
those serving in the military."
Bishops also called for religious freedoms in Iraq, including
tolerance for non-Muslims, and the protection of Iraqi refugees
and asylum seekers.
They said that as the U.S. pursued the war on terrorism and the
rebuilding of Iraq, it should not forget pressing concerns at
home and abroad, particularly caring for the poor.
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
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