The bishop of the county’s Catholic diocese, showing a less virulent opposition to the Gulf War than some of his colleagues, is urging local church members to “support our President and the leaders of our armed forces” and to lend encouragement to military aims.
In a letter that he asked priests at the 53 local parishes to read at last Sunday’s Masses, the Most Rev. Norman F. McFarland, bishop of Orange, said that he “strongly condemned Saddam Hussein’s aggression, actively supported the determined global pressure to reverse it, and acknowledged that the deployment of military force might add credibility and effectiveness to the economic and political pressures we encouraged.”
“However, with our Holy Father, we fear ‘war is an adventure with no return,’ ” McFarland said.
The tone and substance of the message, along with a second war treatise still to be printed in the local diocese newsletter, appeared to set McFarland apart from a vocal contingent of Catholic leaders and other religious figures nationwide who have spoken out in recent weeks and months against the military effort in the Persian Gulf.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November became one of the first major religious groups to challenge the Bush Administration policy in the Persian Gulf when it urged that war be waged only as a last resort.
And even after the outbreak of war, U.S. Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox leaders have continued to question the moral justification for the fighting and urged an end to it.
In Orange County, some among the local Catholic population of 700,000 are bothered by what they see as McFarland’s general support for U.S. military policy.
Jonathan Parfrey , a war protester who is a member of the Catholic Workers Community center in Santa Ana, said of the McFarland Mass letter: “He doesn’t want to say that this is a just war, but he comes as close as he can.”
Nonetheless, Parfrey and other occasional critics of the bishop said they were encouraged by the relatively “middle-of-the-road” war position from a conservative man who, before coming to Orange County, wrote articles defending the U.S. stockpiling of nuclear weapons.
“I’m kind of delighted that it’s not so single-mindedly right wing,” former priest Terry Halloran of Garden Grove said of the Sunday statement. “A lot of times he tends to be a lot more hawkish than this. This is really pretty mild and noncommittal for him--even kind of peace loving.”
In the article to be printed in the diocese newsletter, McFarland said that “Saddam Hussein’s aggression and unconscionable brutality and violence against innocent people must be resisted and repulsed,” but that this should not become an excuse for discrimination and persecution of Arab peoples.
And in the Mass statement, he said, “As Americans, we wish to support our President and the leaders of our armed forces, trusting in and invoking God’s guidance upon a national will to do right.
“As Orange Countians, we need to assist the men and women in our military who are deployed in the Persian Gulf and whose families remain behind in our parish communities.”
In an interview, McFarland declined to give his thoughts on those religious leaders who have spoken out against the war, saying, “They may have information that I don’t have.”