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Reservations raised on Bush war rhetoric

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 9/12/2002

The president and much of the faculty of a Catholic seminary in Cambridge yesterday declared their opposition to a US invasion of Iraq, as Catholic leaders including Cardinal Bernard F. Law began sounding reservations about the drumbeat of war.

Catholic officials at the Vatican, in Washington, and locally used the anniversary of Sept. 11 to make their first extensive comments about the Bush administration's movement toward war. Many Catholic leaders, including Law, supported attacking Al Qaeda in Afghanistan following last year's terrorist attack, but this week they have expressed reservations about further military action.

The strongest statement came from Weston Jesuit School of Theology, where the school's president, the Rev. Robert E. Manning, joined faculty, staff, and students yesterday in releasing a statement declaring that ''it is our judgment that unleashing massive violence in a military invasion of Iraq is neither necessary nor moral.''

''The costs and risks of a military intervention are too high to rush into a war,'' the statement said. ''A large-scale attack would take the lives of soldiers and civilians alike. It would contribute further to the widespread suffering of the Iraqi people, to the escalation of hostilities, to prolonged regional instability, and to the possible collapse of the fragile coalition working to bring an end to terrorism.''

Law's comments, which came in remarks to reporters after two prayer services yesterday, were more tempered. Law said he has not taken a position on Iraq, because he has not been briefed on the threat posed to the United States, but that he believes any action should be taken by multiple nations, and that military action should be only a last resort.

''A nation does have a right to defend itself, but at the same time, we have an obligation to try to do everything possible to prevent armed conflict, and to resolve differences in other ways,'' Law said. ''If a threat is real and lethal, it would be irresponsible not to try to respond in a way that would protect the common good, but the ideal order would be where an international community would recognize it ... and decide to take a common action.''

The comments by local Catholics come as the broader church expresses increasing concern about the potential for war. The Catholic Church does not embrace pacifism, but rather subscribes to a doctrine of ''just war,'' holding that military action is acceptable under limited circumstances.

On Monday, the Vatican's foreign minister declared that only the United Nations should decide to authorize an attack on Iraq.

''Should the international community ... conclude the use of force is opportune and justified, this should only happen with a decision made in the framework of the United Nations,'' Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said in an interview with L'Avvenire, a Catholic newspaper in Italy. Tauran said such a decision would require ''assessing the consequences for the Iraqi people, as well as the repercussions that it could have on the countries in the region and on world stability.''

And on Tuesday, the administrative committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement declaring that, as the United States battles terrorism, ''we must ensure restraint in the use of military force, insisting that traditional moral norms governing war and protecting the innocent must be observed. This `war on terrorism' should be fought with the support of the international community and primarily by non-military means, denying terrorists resources, recruits, and opportunities for their evil acts.''

Other religious leaders are also starting to weigh in. The Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts, M. Thomas Shaw, said yesterday that he opposes a war on Iraq.

''It is my hope that there are other avenues that we could explore before any armed hostilities begin against Saddam Hussein,'' Shaw said.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com

Brian MacQuarrie of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2002.
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