Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Chechnya chooses to remain part of Russia

Military archbishop: Troops can carry out duties in good conscience
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said in a March 25 letter to his priests that members of the armed forces should carry out their duties in good conscience because they can presume the integrity of the leaders who decided to go to war in Iraq.

"Given the complexity of factors involved, many of which understandably remain confidential, it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments, and therefore to carry out their military duties in good conscience," Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said in the letter.

Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Diocese of St. George in Canton, Ohio, in a March 7 Lenten message told the people of his Eastern-rite diocese that "any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin."

Although Archbishop O'Brien's letter did not directly refer to Bishop Botean's message, he told Catholic News Service that it was meant, in part, as a response to questions he has received about Bishop Botean's letter. He said he had only seen excerpts of the Ohio bishop's message.

In the letter the archbishop said the moral justification for the invasion of Iraq likely will be debated long after the hostilities cease.

"It is to be hoped that all factors which have led to our intervention will eventually be made public and that the full picture of the Iraqi regime's weaponry and brutality will shed helpful light upon our president's decision," he wrote.

His letter went on to praise the commitment and values of those in the military and their families and to thank Catholic chaplains, priests at home and those on deployment for their work. He also asked for special attention from priests serving at Veterans Affairs medical centers to those who still bear physical or psychological pain from their experiences of war.

Archbishop O'Brien told CNS he had heard from maybe half a dozen people who were concerned about Bishop Botean's message. He said, though he did not want to interfere with what Bishop Botean feels he needs to do, "my question is, does he have all the information he needs to make such a conclusion? I don't know if anybody does."

The three-page letter from the head of the Romanian diocese discussed the church's just-war theory, and the sections of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" that address the conditions for military force and the role of conscience when it comes to following "unjust laws or ... measures contrary to the moral order."

"Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the person and way of Jesus Christ," Bishop Botean wrote. "With moral certainty I say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just-war theory.

"Thus, any killing associated with it is unjustified and, in consequence, unequivocally murder," he continued. "Direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion. For the Catholics in the Eparchy (Diocese) of St. George, I hereby authoritatively state that such direct participation is intrinsically and gravely evil and therefore absolutely forbidden."

Archbishop O'Brien told CNS that Catholics in Bishop Botean's diocese who are in the military also fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. military archdiocese, where Bishop Botean's declaration forbidding direct participation in the war does not take precedence.

"Certainly anyone in the uniform of our country has the right to weigh both perspectives," he said.

Bishop Botean's message "is putting a very heavy conscience burden on his people," Archbishop O'Brien said, adding that he "would hesitate" before putting such a burden on people about "such a serious matter."

In a March 25 phone call, Bishop Botean told CNS that he has received quite a lot of feedback on his message "and most of it is running quite positive." He declined to elaborate further on the effect of his message or his reasons for writing it, except to note that it was intended just for the people of his diocese.

Before he became a bishop, Bishop Botean served for a time as a staff member of Pax Christi USA's Center on Conscience and War in Cambridge, Mass.

Archbishop O'Brien's letter also asked his priests to focus all their efforts and prayers through Christ in the daily celebration of the Eucharist.

"Is not the most frequent request from our people that we pray for them?" he asked. "There is no prayer more effective, when offered daily and with due reverence on behalf of our people, than the one we pray at the altar."

He thanked the many Catholic congregations that have initiated hours of eucharistic adoration for the cause of peace, for the troops in danger and for the cause of vocations.

[Me: Regarding the part emphasized above, horse hockey, Your Grace. Oh, and in the Orthodox tradition that he, a Byzantine Catholic, follows, it's Bishop John-Michael, not Bishop Botean.]

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