Drawing a red line against war with Iran

Bishop Richard E. Pates, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' committee on international justice and peace, did not literally draw a red line to illustrate a Catholic position on how the Obama administration should respond to Iran's dangerous nuclear ambitions. But in a figurative sense, he did so in a letter this week to National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon when he cited Catholic teaching against preventive warfare:

The Catholic Church teaches: "[E]ngaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions." (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, no. 501)Bold steps must be considered to counter this unfortunate and continually rising tide of aggressive posturing between our own nation and Iran. Preventing military action is paramount. A negotiated solution should provide a framework for resolving tensions.A peaceful resolution will require direct, sustained negotiations over a considerable period of time. It is the opinion of our Committee that direct talks between the United States and Iran must begin soon, so as to prevent further escalation.

Echoing objections made a decade ago to war with Iraq, the letter warns that military action "could have unpredictable and dramatic repercussions for the region."Few Americans, including few Catholics, will probably ever know about the bishop's letter on this issue (which I learned about through a CNA dispatch). The bishops' opinions on these matters get little play in the news media. And most of the bishops themselves have little to say in their own dioceses about issues of war and peace. That was the case in the period before the war in Iraq. It should not happen again as the prospect of war with Iran looms. 

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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