US Catholic Bishops have said that while the prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons is unacceptable, in the absence an immediate threat, the USA and other nations must pursue a diplomatic solution to the present confrontation.
The message came in a letter issued by the church to US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice late last week.
It was signed by Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Florida, on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The bishops are reacting to escalating political rhetoric and news accounts speculating about a potential pre-emptive use of force against Iran, supposedly to deter further possible nuclear weapons ambitions.
"From a moral perspective," Bishop Wenski wrote, "in the absence of an immediate threat military action would constitute an act of preventative war."
The Catholic Church, he noted, teaches that "engaging in a preventative war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions."
The bishops make clear their assessment that the Iranian situation does not presently constitute an immediate threat.
Under the 'just war' tradition of moral reasoning, before military action could be considered, say the bishops, all non-military alternatives must be exhausted.
Options, they suggest, range from diplomatic and economic incentives, increased international involvement and cooperation, to economic sanctions.
Catholic and other Christian peacemakers say that the churches' stance should be for nonviolence, not for the justification of military action.
The bishops have also called on US leaders to change the nations' current nuclear posture to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used against non-nuclear threats. They have appealed for greater, more sustained progress toward nuclear disarmament in the spirit of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The full text of the Catholic bishops' letter is available at: http://www.usccb.org