Bishops call for `responsible transition' in Iraq

November 14, 2006|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called yesterday for dialogue and action on a responsible transition in Iraq, a statement quickly affirmed by the national group's members at their fall meeting.

"The statement offers a constructive contribution at a critical time," Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., told the 250 prelates gathered at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront.

"Our nation's military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence contributes to a responsible transition. Our nation should look for effective ways to end their deployment at the earliest opportunity consistent with this goal," the statement reads.

The observance of Veterans Day this weekend reminds the bishops and most Americans of the issue of Iraq, said Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, the bishop of Orlando and chair of the conference's international policy committee, at a news conference yesterday.

"We don't want to ally ourselves with the extremes of the divisive debate that has taken place until now, the extremes between `stay the course' and `cut and run,'" he said.

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore said in an interview that "it's essential that we lift up the moral component of the situation in Iraq. We have to extract as much of the morality issue as we can."

The Iraq statement, which builds on a response issued in January, was a last-minute addition to the agenda for the fall meeting.

"The bishops read the exit polls and saw that the voters felt the biggest moral issue facing the country was Iraq, and so they felt they needed to say something about it," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, the former editor of America magazine, who attended the conference yesterday.

John Carr, the conference's secretariat for social development and world peace, said some bishops had asked whether the national group would address the Iraq war at their fall meeting.

The bishops' conference has issued 18 statements and letters on the war, said Carr and Wenski.

"The work has been ongoing, but the decision that the bishops could not meet without addressing Iraq came in the last 10 days," Carr said.

The bishops also voted unanimously yesterday to spend $335,000 of $1 million reserved last year to support a study into the causes and context of sexual abuse by clergy.

Researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York will conduct the analysis and raise the remainder of the money for the project, which is expected to cost between $2 million and $3 million.

Voice of the Faithful, a group of Catholic laity calling for church reform, issued a statement yesterday calling for full funding of the study if necessary.

"We would hope at least some bishops would encourage the USCCB to guarantee the funding of the entire study in the event John Jay College is not able to raise all of the remaining funds necessary," according to the news release.

In other business, the bishops considered the text of documents for the laity about the church's teaching on contraception and preparation for the Eucharist and guidance for bishops about ministry for "persons with a homosexual inclination."

The bishops are expected to vote on those documents today.

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