German Catholic archbishop urges caution over Syria

By staff writers
August 31, 2013

The President of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference has urged “careful analysis and consideration” of the current situation in Syria and Western considerations of military intervention.

Germany has already said that it will not take part in any US-led strike against Syria, making its situation clear ahead of the recent UK parliamentary vote along the same lines.

Archbishop Dr Robert Zollitsch declared earlier this week: "The use of chemical weapons to which several hundred people fell victim last week in Syria has triggered a justified international outrage. These are weapons of mass destruction the use of which is banned by international law. If there was no response to the crime of Damascus, an important component of the Law of Armed Conflict or Law of War would come under pressure and the implications for the international security could be devastating. This is why those responsible for the atrocities must be identified. The perpetrators must be called to account. Serious consideration should be given to the recommendation of the Arab League to include the International Criminal Court in the prosecution. All parties to the conflict in Syria and even their associated states have the moral obligation to support the investigation of the crimes by the United Nations.

"Given the seriousness of the crimes it is understandable that a number of Western governments are considering military air strikes as a response to this. In the horizon of the Church’s thinking on peace, however, such 'punitive action' also raises considerable concerns.

"In the first instance, no military strike can be legitimate as long as there is no absolute certainty supported by clear facts about the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attack. It seems to me that the doubts about the responsibility of President Assad’s regime could not be finally dispelled up to now.

"Then it has to be born in mind that a primary responsibility for a response to the massacre lies with the Security Council. Though this body of the United Nations endowed with legitimacy under international law has so far proved unable to formulate a common policy of the international community on the Syria conflict, any military operation as it is obviously planned now must at least be preceded by the serious attempt at coordinated action.

"Moreover it has to be taken into consideration whether all non-military options really have been exploited to punish for the war crimes and to deter from a future use of chemical weapons of mass destruction.

"Finally, the political objective of the military operation must be defined. In this context it has to be asked whether a military strike is likely to provoke an unintended escalation of the acts of war. Will a ‘punitive action’ bring Syria closer to peace or will it move Syria even further away from peace? Will the neighbouring countries as well, in the end, be even more involved in the war?

"All these questions and aspects require a careful analysis and consideration. The answers, however, in my view are not yet clear enough to sufficiently justify a military strike at the present moment. My assessment does not fail to appreciate the difficult situation of those responsible to make a decision in these hours.

"Some days ago, Pope Francis made a passionate appeal for peace to all parties to the conflict. ‘It is not conflict that offers prospects of hope for solving problems’, the Holy Father said, ‘but rather the capacity for encounter and dialogue.’ This statement remains fundamentally true, even though it seems so far away from our reality in these days of violence. Again I call on all Christians to remember the victims of the civil war in Syria in their prayer," said the archbishop.

The German Bishops‘ Conference assembles the Catholic bishops of all German dioceses. At present, the number of members from the 27 dioceses amounts to 65 (August 2013).

The German Bishops‘ Conference was created to promote common pastoral objectives, mutual consultation, and the coordination of church activities, to take common decisions and to cultivate relations with other bishops‘ conferences.

The plenary assembly of all bishops is the overarching body of the German Bishops‘ Conference which meets regularly for several days in spring and autumn.

* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria

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