WASHINGTON -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved a statement Thursday acknowledging the United States' right to use military force against international terrorism. They urged a new foreign policy that makes ending suffering a priority.
Terrorism can never be justified, but poverty, human rights abuse and violence generate resentment that terrorists can exploit, the bishops said. To promote peace, world leaders should lift economic sanctions against Iraq and help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while more equitably spreading the benefits of globalization, the bishops said.
The proclamation attempts to reflect the range of views among the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, from pacifists who see no justification for the war, to clergy who hoped for a stronger statement of support for the Bush administration.
The bishops voted 167-4 for the document.
"It offers a moral framework, not a long series of specific judgments," said Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who led the committee that wrote the document. "It lifts up key challenges but it does not seek to answer all the questions."
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit was among those who opposed the statement, arguing it violated Christ's teachings to love your enemies. He questioned whether the airstrikes against Afghanistan were truly just.
"We are in a war situation where our own government tells us that there's not going to be peace at the end of this. We have to be prepared for other attacks," Gumbleton said. "What kind of wisdom is it to carry out a war when we know the only outcome is going to be further war?"
The vote came on the last day of the bishops' four-day meeting.
On Wednesday, the conference renewed its fight against abortion and expressed concern for the plight of Africans.
In a document called "Campaign in Support of Life," the bishops highlighted the church's opposition to the death penalty, physician-assisted suicide, late-term abortions and human embryo research.
The bishops had applauded last week's directive from Attorney General John Ashcroft that Oregon doctors who use an assisted-suicide law could lose their licenses to prescribe federally controlled drugs. A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order barring the directive.
In this latest proclamation, the conference urged Roman Catholics to continue to lobby public officials and the general public to support the church's positions.
The bishops said they were encouraged by a decline in abortions and new state laws that restrict the procedure. But they noted their failure to reverse the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
"It is impossible, as our Holy Father reminds us, to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all other inalienable rights of individuals are founded," the bishops said.
Regarding Africa, the group urged the United States to build new connections with the continent by increasing humanitarian aid, easing debt burdens and forging trade agreements.
"The United States must not write off Africa as having little relevance to our strategic priorities but rather must embrace a broader vision of our nation's interest in, and obligation to, the world's poorest continent," the bishops said in their proclamation.
The bishops also approved amendments to canon law outlining when laymen can preach in church. The changes, meant in part to address a shortage of priests and the needs of non-English-speaking parishioners, were first proposed two years ago. The Vatican still must approve any revisions.
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