Pope condemns chemical weapons use, calls for peace in Syria

By CAROL J. WILLIAMS | Los Angeles Times | Published: September 3, 2013

Pope Francis resolutely condemned the use of chemical weapons in a message to his nearly 3 million Twitter followers Tuesday, but has made it clear in recent days that he opposes military retaliation against Syria for the government’s alleged use of the banned armaments.

“With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons,” the pope said in his 138th tweet since his March election as leader of the Holy See.

In Sunday sermons, the pope also called on Catholics and followers of all faiths around the world to observe a day of fasting and prayer on Saturday for peace in Syria and the Middle East.

“Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: It is the cry for peace!” the pontiff told thousands gathered for Angelus prayers in St. Peter’s Square.

“War never again! Never again war!” Pope Francis declared in a tweet Monday.

His preachings from the pulpit and from the keyboard appeared aimed at dissuading the religious from backing appeals by President Barack Obama and other Western leaders rallying political forces for punitive airstrikes against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Obama and allied leaders say they have indisputable proof that Assad’s forces unleashed poison gas attacks in Damascus suburbs Aug. 21 that reportedly left more than 1,400 dead, including 426 children.

The White House has asked Congress to vote on its plan to attack Assad to dissuade him from further use of weapons of mass destruction. According to United Nations figures, at least 100,000 have died in the 2½-year-old Syrian civil war, which shows no sign of ending soon.

“There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming,” the pope said, an apparent reference to the threatened airstrikes.

“I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed!”

The pope said judgments about responsibility for the deaths of innocents shouldn’t be made by laymen.

“There is the judgment of God, and also the judgment of history, upon our actions,” he said, “from which there is no escaping.”

In a Tuesday analysis for the National Catholic Reporter, Jesuit priest Father Thomas Reese examined the opinions expressed by theological ethicists on whether there exists moral justification for an attack on Syria. He found the religious leaders to be deeply frustrated by the lack of viable options for preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction and the uncertain consequences that would follow airstrikes that neither destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles nor create conditions for negotiating an end to the war.

Like politicians debating the need and efficacy of military intervention, Reese concluded, “moralists are appalled by what is happening in Syria but are just as unhappy about the options available.”

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