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Bishops' Bosnia statement stirs D.C. waters: says use of force justified if necessary.

WASHINGTON -- As President Clinton finds support for intervention in Bosnia eroding in Europe, he at least has the moral backing of most of the country's Christian churches.

But it is in the methods, especially the use of ground troops or air strikes, that the Catholic and Protestant churches part company. Last week, the chairman of the Catholic bishops' International Policy Committee went on record as saying that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to intervene.

There were lots of caveats -- as well as a hurried reinterpretation -- but the bottom line in the letter that Archbishop John R. Roach of St. Paul-Minneapolis sent to Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher was that the use of force is justified to bring an end to the human tragedy in the former Yugoslavia.

"We are convinced that there is just cause to use force to defend largely helpless people in Bosnia against the aggression and barbarism that are destroying the very foundations of society and threaten large numbers of people," Roach said.

For the time being, the president has stepped back from his resolve to arm the Bosnian Muslims and launch air strikes against Serb military positions. In doing so, the White House is ceding leadership to the Europeans who favor a more measured approach.

Force is still an option, however, and the church is offering its qualified moral sanction.

It is a "terrible option," Roach said in an interview last week with NCR. It must be resorted to only as a last resort and with the utmost care, he said. "The conditions are much more important than the use of deadly force.

"The last thing we did was encourage the use of force. If it's the option that you're left with, be very sure that you use it discreetly."

Regardless of the caveats, the bishops' statement was welcomed by administration supporters on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Frank McCloskey, D-Ind., a Catholic and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the statement underlined "the moral and humanitarian imperatives" of the Balkan tragedy.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., also a Catholic and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed a sentiment that pervades Congress. "I believe caution still must rule our actions," he said in a statement prepared for NCR. "This nation cannot by itself be responsible for upholding the world's moral or ethical code."

The archbishop's statement is similar to one issued in March by the 50-member Administrative Board of the U.S. Catholic Conference. At that time, it received scant attention in the press.

The one released this month exploded like a fragmentation bomb. "Catholic Bishop Tell Clinton God's on UN Side in Bosnia," said the front page headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The difference was in the packaging and the timing. Clinton appeared close last week to a decision on military intervention. The news release accompanying the statement wasted little time in saying such force was justified.

Roach hastily issued a clarification, stressing that caution must be exercised. Still, he did not hedge on the central point in his letter to the secretary. "Indifference to the tragedy in Bosnia on the part of the United States and the international community is unacceptable," he wrote.

The archbishop told NCR that the policy committee was unanimous in backing the letter, with only minor amendments offered and approved. And so far, he said, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Although immediate results are not expected, it makes a difference, he said, when the church gets involved in policy questions. The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, the bishops' 1983 peace pastoral, for example, had "an immense impact," he said. "I saw the nation go from discussing nuclear weapons as a tactical issue to a moral issue," he said.

The archbishop's statement backs several limited approaches, not all of them entailing military force, including:

* Establishment of temporary safe havens in Bosnia to protect civilians.

* More concerted measures to protect refugees and besieged civilians and to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid.

* Continued economic sanctions.

* Enforcement of a political settlement in Bosnia and cease-fire in Croatia.

"Other measures," including air strikes and lifting the arms embargo to Bosnia, he said, "must still meet stringent moral criteria before they can be used." It is on methods that the Catholic and Protestant churches differ.

Most of the mainline Protestant members of the National Council of Churches endorsed a statement May 17 calling on the United States to commit a large contingent of ground troops to be part of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia.

Among them are the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, National Baptist Convention, African Methodist, Episcopal, Church of Christ and the two "peace" denominations, the Friends and Moravians. The Evangelical Lutherans and several smaller denominations did not endorse the statement.

"We can no longer stand by as human rights are violated in a wholesale manner, justice is flouted and peace in this part of the world is in the balance," a majority of the members said after hammering out the statement in a lengthy 32-member conference call. They did not, however, support the use of air strikes or rearming the Bosnian Serbs -- both tenets of the Clinton proposal.

Paul F. Wilson, NCC's director of international affairs, said the Protestant and Catholic bodies closely monitored each other's statements, parting company only on the specifics. "Perhaps next time we can speak together," he said.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on just-war theory; National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Author:Clancy, Paul
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:May 28, 1993
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