11/15/2007 02:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Catholic Wisdom on Iran and Iraq

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is holding its annual meeting this week. They have elected a new president, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, and will vote on their teaching document for the 2008 election. Two other actions are worth noting.

The bishops approved a letter from their International Committee to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging a diplomatic solution with Iran.

Recent news accounts speculating on the possible use of force against Iran are especially troubling. From a moral perspective, in the absence of an immediate threat against the United States or our allies, military action would constitute an act of preventive war. 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." ... The use of force must always be a last resort. In addition, the failure to be transparent about one's nuclear energy program is not grounds for military intervention, nor is the possession of nuclear weapons or the issuing of bellicose statements.

The bishops also approved a statement on a responsible transition in Iraq. They noted that the concerns they had expressed about the war before it began must "now give way to new moral questions."

Our country needs a new direction to reduce the war's deadly toll and to bring our people together to deal with the conflict's moral and human dimensions. Our nation needs a new bipartisan approach to Iraq policy based on honest and civil dialogue.

Our Conference encourages our national leaders to focus on the morally and politically demanding, but carefully limited goal of fostering a "responsible transition" and withdrawal at the earliest opportunity consistent with that goal. The moral demands of this path begin with addressing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and minimizing further loss of human life.

And, they pointed out that

Catholic teaching has long held that peace is more than the absence of war; it is built on the foundation of justice. This moral insight means that building a just peace in Iraq requires far more than military action; it demands a comprehensive political, diplomatic and economic effort. This effort begins in Iraq, but it does not end there. For this reason, we believe sustained U.S. efforts to collaborate with the other nations, including Syria and Iran, are critically important for bringing some measure of stability to Iraq.

Both statements are in the best tradition of Catholic social teaching and are worth studying. A responsible U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and diplomacy over war with Iran would provide the opportunity for a more stable and peaceful solution to both issues.

Jim Wallis is the Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners and blogs at

Click here to get e-mail updates from Jim Wallis