CANTON, Mar 18, 03 (CWNews.com) -- An American Catholic bishop has forbidden his flock from participating or cooperating in military action against Iraq, under pain of mortal sin.
Bishop John Michael Botean, the head of the Romanian Catholic eparchy (diocese) of St. George in Canton, Ohio-- which has jurisdiction over all Byzantine-rite Romanian Catholics living in the US-- invoked the full measure of his authority in a Lenten Letter to his people. The bishop declared with "moral certainty" that the proposed attack on Iraq "does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just-war theory."
The bishop announced that he "must declare to you, my people, for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin."
Bishop Botean acknowledged that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2309) identifies public authorities as the final judges of whether military action is justified. But he argued that "the nation-state is never the final arbiter or authority for the Catholic of what is moral." An unjust law or order should not be obeyed, he observed.
Writing with obvious emotion, the Romanian Catholic prelate admitted that "I would much prefer to keep silent." And he pointed out to his people: "Never before have I spoken to you in this manner, explicitly exercising the fullness of authority Jesus Christ has given his apostles." However, he said, he felt a moral burden to guide his people.
Arguing that a military assault on Iraq does not fit the criteria of
the just-war tradition, Bishop Botean concluded in stark terms: "Thus,
any killing associated with it is unjustified and, in consequence, unequivocally
Monday 3/10/03 Catholic Pastoral Letter Condemns War On Iraq Absolutely
The enclosed Pastoral Letter was read from all the pulpits of all the
Romanian Catholic Churches in the United States on Sunday, March 9, 2003. It
was also mailed to each Romanian Catholic in the U.S.
It represents an extraordinary moment in the Catholic Church in the
perhaps in the Church in the wider world. Here is a bishop with full
Apostolic authority, who is an Ordinary not an Auxiliary, officially
proclaiming to the people entrusted to his spiritual care by Christ, that
direct participation in a war of their nation would be mortal sin and
therefore explicitly and absolutely forbidden. This has never been done in
modern Catholic Church history. It is the equivalent of a Church being
informed by its highest spiritual authority that it is under a Divine
mandate to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, if legally required to
participate in this war.
This is not a bishop functioning as a political lobbyist, nor is it
simply giving good advise to his people, nor is it a bishop functioning as a
theological disputant with anyone inside or outside his Church. This is a
bishop declaring to those who are actively one with him by Baptism and by
faith in Christ and His Church, that as the final authority in matters of
faith and morals in their Community, this war is intrinsically evil and
therefore morally impermissible for them.
It should be noted that Bishop Botean's declaration is binding only
Romanian Catholics of the United States. No member of any other Catholic
diocese in the U.S. or elsewhere is bound in conscience to accept or to
adhere to it. Each bishop must stand before the Cross and discern what the
truth of Jesus Christ is on this situation for himself as bishop and for
those souls specifically given to him for their sanctification and eternal
salvation. No bishop can bind in conscience Catholics of another
diocese—except for the Bishop of Rome or all bishops formally gathered in an
Bishop Botean is a Summa Cum Laude graduate in Philosophy of The Catholic
University of America. Any suggestion, that he cannot appreciate the
complexities, niceties and nuances of the concepts presented to justify a
war as being in conformity with Catholic teaching, is patently without
Center for Christian Nonviolence, 167 Fairhill Drive, Wilmington DE
19808-4312, Phone: 302-235-2925
Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton
Office of the Bishop
March 7, 2003
Beloved brothers and sisters in our Lord, Jesus Christ,
Great Lent, which we now begin, is traditionally a time in which we
stock of ourselves, our lives, and the direction in which we are headed. In
the common language of the Catholic Church, it is a time for a deep
“examination of conscience” as we fast, pray, and otherwise attend to the
call for repentance issued by the Church for the forty days before we
celebrate the Resurrection of her savior, Jesus Christ.
A serious examination of conscience requires that we recognize that
are times in the life of each Christian when one’s faith is seriously and
urgently challenged by the events taking place around him or her. Like it or
not, these challenges show us just how seriously—or not—we are living our
baptismal commitment to Christ. Most of us, most of the time, would prefer
to keep our heads in the sand, ostrich-like, than to face truths about
ourselves. This is why the Church has found it so vitally necessary to have
seasons, such as Lent, during which we must pull our heads out of the sand
and take a good, hard look at the world around us and how we are living in
We cannot fail, as we examine our consciences, to take into account
critical challenge presented to our faith in our day: the fact that the
United States government is about to initiate a war against the people of
Iraq. For Romanian Catholics who are also United States citizens, this
raises an immediate and unavoidable moral issue of major importance.
Specifically stated the issue is this: does the killing of human beings in
this war constitute murder?
The Holy Gospels reveal our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ to be
nonviolent. In them, Jesus teaches a Way of life that his disciples are to
follow, a Way of nonviolent love of friends and enemies. However, since the
latter half of the fourth century the Church has proposed standards that, if
met, would make it morally permissible for Christians to depart from that
way in order to engage in war. These standards have come to be known in
popular language as the “Catholic Just War Theory.”
According to this theory, if all of the conditions it specifies are
to, the killing that is done in fighting a war may be justifiable and
therefore morally allowable. This theory also teaches that if any one of the
standards is not met, then the killing that occurs is unjust and therefore
morally impermissible. Unjust killing is by definition murder. Murder is
intrinsically evil and therefore absolutely forbidden, no matter what good
may seem to come of it.
The Church teaches that good ends do not justify the use of evil means.
Catechism of the Catholic Church states this principle succinctly: “One may
never do evil so that good may result from it.” (1789) One contemporary
example of this would be abortion. Abortion is intrinsically evil; hence
regardless of the good that may seem to issue from it, a Catholic may never
participate in it.
Paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The
conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous
consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous
conditions of moral legitimacy” (emphasis added). Since war is about the
mass infliction of death and suffering on children of God, Christians can
enter into it and fight in it only if the war in question strictly meets all
the criteria of the just war theory, and only if these same standards are
likewise meticulously observed in the course of fighting the war. Vague,
loose, freewheeling, conniving, relaxed interpretations of Catholic just war
theory and its application are morally illegitimate because of “the gravity
of such a decision.”
“The evaluation of these conditions of the just war theory for moral
legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have
responsibility for the common good,” states the Catechism. (2309) However,
the nation-state is never the final arbiter or authority for the Catholic of
what is moral or for what is good for the salvation of his or her soul. What
is legal can be evil and often has been. Jesus Christ and his Church, not
the state, are the ultimate informers of conscience for the Catholic.
This is why the Church teaches as a norm of conscience the following:
rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral
order such arrangements would not be binding in conscience.” (Catechism
1903) She also warns “Blind obedience [to immoral laws] does not suffice to
excuse those who carry them out” (Catechism 2313). When a moral conflict
arises between Church teaching and secular morality, when contradictory
moral demands are made upon a Catholic’s conscience, he or she “must obey
God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).
Because such a moment of moral crisis has arisen for us, beloved Romanian
Catholics, I must now speak to you as your bishop. Please be aware that I am
not speaking to you as a theologian or as a private Christian voicing his
opinion, nor by any means am I speaking to you as a political partisan. I am
speaking to you solely as your bishop with the authority and responsibility
I, though a sinner, have been given as a successor to the apostles on your
behalf. I am speaking to you from the deepest chambers of my conscience as
your bishop, appointed by Jesus Christ in his Body, the Church, to help
shepherd you to sanctity and to heaven. Never before have I spoken to you in
this manner, explicitly exercising the fullness of authority Jesus Christ
has given his Apostles “to bind and to loose,” (cf. John 20:23), but now
“the love of Christ compels” me to do so (2 Corinthians 5:14). My love for
you makes it a moral imperative that I not allow you, by my silence, to fall
into grave evil and its incalculable temporal and eternal consequences.
Humanly speaking, I would much prefer to keep silent. It would be far,
easier for me and my family simply to let events unfold as they will,
without commentary or warning on my part. But what kind of shepherd would I
be if I, seeing the approach of the wolf, ran away from the sheep (cf. John
10:12-14)? My silence would be cowardly and, indeed, sinful. I believe that
Christ, whose flock you are, expects more than silence from me on behalf of
the souls committed to my protection and guidance.
Therefore I, by the grace of God and the favor of the Apostolic See
of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton, must declare to you, my people, for
the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation
and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave
evil, a matter of mortal sin. Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally
incompatible with the Person and Way of Jesus Christ. With moral certainty I
say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just
Thus, any killing associated with it is unjustified and, in consequence,
unequivocally murder. Direct participation in this war is the moral
equivalent of direct participation in an abortion. For the Catholics of the
Eparchy of St. George, I hereby authoritatively state that such direct
participation is intrinsically and gravely evil and therefore absolutely
My people, it is an incontestable Biblical truth that a sin left unnamed
will propagate itself with lavish zeal. We must call murder by its right
name: murder. God and conscience require nothing less if the face of the
earth is to be renewed and if the salvation offered by Our Lord, God, and
Savior Jesus Christ is to reach all people, including us. We have no choice
before the face of God but to speak unambiguously to the moral situation
with which we are confronted and to live according to the Will of Him who
gazes at us from the Cross (Catechism 1785).
Let us pray for each other and take care of each other in this spiritually
trying time. To this end our Church is wholeheartedly committed to the
support of any of our members in the military or government service who may
be confronted with situations of legal jeopardy due to their need to be
conscientious objectors to this war. Let us also pray in earnest with the
Mother of God, who knows what it is to have her Child destroyed before her
eyes, that the destruction of families, lives, minds and bodies that war
unleashes will not take place.
Finally, my brothers and sisters in Christ, be assured that Our Lord
aware that our “No” to murder and our prayers for peace are our faithful
response to his desires. He will remember this forever and ever, and so it
is to him we must now turn, in him we must now trust.
Sincerely in Christ-God,
(Most Reverend) John Michael Botean
a sinner, bishop