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Religious voices need to speak out against the war

Nearly 30 years ago, Pope John Paul II prayed fervently, "On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence -- I say to you, with all the love I have for you -- do not listen to voices which speak the language of hatred, revenge, retaliation. Do not follow any leaders who train you in the way of inflicting death. Give yourself to the service of life, not the work of death. Violence is the enemy of justice. Only peace can lead the way of true justice."

Local spiritual leaders such as Episcopal Bishop Michael Garrison, Lutheran Bishop Marie Jerge, the Rev. Ronald Sajdak, the Catholic Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission and the Interfaith Peace Network of Western New York have similarly cried out for an end to war. However, such voices are few and the volume seems low.

On Sept. 29, at a peace rally drawing up to 3,000 people in Syracuse, the largest upstate peace action since the Vietnam War, (unfortunately not mentioned by The News), Catholic priest Fred Daley questioned: "In the midst of the horror and evil of this Iraq War, where are our churches, where are our religious institutions, where are our religious bodies? Why this silence in our pulpits and congregations, while prophetic documents of peace from popes and bishops, councils and synods gather dust on library shelves?"

Daley exclaims that church voices have been mainly silent and many people lack moral guidance. In fact, University of Michigan scholar Juan Cole reports that only 28 percent of Catholics know their leaders' position on the war.

Much discussion of the war seems to engage strong emotion and short slogans. Yet the moral precepts for judging the morality of this war are clear. Here are a few:

*War must be a last resort. This war was not the last resort. Weapons inspectors had requested more time. They would have invalidated the war's justification -- weapons of mass destruction.

*War must provide for the protection of the innocent. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the overwhelming majority of war deaths have been civilian. A 2006 Johns Hopkins study estimated 655,000 Iraqi deaths from shootings, bombings, disease, poor health care and other war-related causes. In today's wars, it may be argued that this criterion is never met.

*A proportion of good over evil must be maintained: The evil in terms of death and injury, and the more than $2 trillion estimated cost (long term, including veterans' care and interest on debt, per Nobel Economic Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz) is horrific. The humanitarian toll, including 2 million refugees and 70 percent of Iraqi children experiencing mental problems, is appalling. The cost in terms of lost opportunities at home and abroad is staggering.

The ardent prayer of Pope John Paul II and the moral guidance these criteria provide call us to be peacemakers. Then we shall be blessed and swords shall be beaten into plowshares.

William H. Privett is regional coordinator of Pax Christi Western New York.

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