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November 14, 2000 New York Times
American Bishops to Take Up a Statement on Mideast Peace
By GUSTAV NIEBUHR
A committee of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops has written a document
urging that the United States work "tirelessly" to revive the Middle East
peace process and that the effort lead to an "internationally recognized
Palestinian state," acceptance of Israel's right "to exist and flourish
within secure borders" and stability for Lebanon without Syria's domination.
The document, titled "Returning to the Path of Peace in the Middle East," was distributed to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops this morning, an unusual late addition to the bishops' agenda on the first day of their fall meeting. If adopted later this week, as expected, it will be their first response to the renewed violence in the Middle East.
Although the bishops have spoken out for a negotiated peace before, they have not used the word "state" in relation to the political future of the Palestinians. But in an interview, Cardinal Bernard Law, chairman of the international policy committee, which drew up the proposal, said the word only made explicit a position the bishops had previously taken.
"I think that implicitly we have done that," Cardinal Law said, adding that the reference to a Palestinian state "certainly doesn't represent a substantial development of what our position has been." He referred to a 1989 statement by the bishops that called for "an independent Palestinian homeland with sovereign status recognized by Israel."
As chairman of the international policy committee, Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston, issued a Middle East statement of his own last month, in which he said religious leaders "have a special obligation to work unceasingly for peace."
In introducing the new document to the conference today, Cardinal Law said, "My brother bishops, we could not meet this week without addressing the crisis in the Middle East."
The document describes the peace process as "the only realistic way forward," deplores anti-Semitic acts and attacks on religious sites, and voices concern that the region's Christian minority "will be further reduced and marginalized" if the conflict continues.
The document is among several that the bishops, meeting in a downtown hotel, will consider in their four- day gathering. They are also to act on a sweeping analysis of the American criminal justice system and a sharply worded criticism of the Supreme Court's decision striking down a state law that banned a late- term abortion procedure whose opponents call it "partial birth."
The bishops opened their meeting on a decidedly ecumenical note when the conference's president, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, spoke warmly about the church's efforts since the Second Vatican Council to improve relations with other Christian churches and with Jews.
Bishop Fiorenza cited Pope John Paul II's actions on behalf of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation during the papal trip to Israel last March, and said the bishops were committed to building on a "strong bond of mutual respect" with American Jews "and to eradicating all signs of anti-Semitism in our institutions and educational materials."
His speech was notable as the first major statement from among the American bishops as a body on ecumenical and interfaith relations since a declaration by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith two months ago that said salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone and that Christ's church "continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church."