A Coptic Christian attends a memorial service in Cairo for the 21 Egyptians to have been beheaded in Libya. A video released on social showed the beheadings. (CNS photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)
A Coptic Christian attends a memorial service in Cairo for the 21 Egyptians to have been beheaded in Libya. A video released on social showed the beheadings. (CNS photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

In the wake of the brutal murders of twenty one Coptic Christians at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya, increased support to protect religious minorities and civilians should be combined with adequate humanitarian assistance and other assets, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace. 

“Pope Francis and the Holy See have reiterated on a number of occasions that it is ‘licit’ to use force to stop these unjust aggressors and to protect religious minorities and civilians from these horrendous attacks,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, USCCB president, and Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, in a February 23 letter sent to President Obama and the U.S. House and Senate leadership. “They have emphasized that the use of military force must be proportionate and discriminate, and employed within the framework of ‘international and humanitarian law.’”

As Congress considers the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the bishops urged them to review it within the context of humanitarian law. “The United States should only use military force consistent with ‘international and humanitarian law.’ At the same time, we must deploy other assets in the struggle against terrorism.” 

Quoting the post-9/11 statement of the U.S. bishops, they reiterated:  “While military action may be necessary, it is by no means sufficient to deal with this terrorist threat.”  The bishops noted:  “Inclusive governance and meaningful participation in political and economic life inoculate populations against the false promises of extremism.”

The letter also addressed the need for humanitarian and resettlement assistance. Bishop Cantú witnessed the situation first hand during a recent solidarity visit to the Kurdish region of Iraq where the terror of the “Islamic State” has forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis – including Christians, Yezidis and Muslims– to flee their homes. “They arrive often with only the clothes on their backs. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working with the local Church to assist the displaced without regard to creed, but the needs are overwhelming. More than one Catholic bishop begged us to urge our government to provide both protection and more humanitarian assistance,” the bishops wrote.

“Our delegation to Iraq also met with some very vulnerable refugees and displaced Syrians and Iraqis who will not be able to return to their homes. Some have health conditions, others have lost a bread winner, and still others are orphaned,” the bishops wrote on the magnitude of the crisis. “The most vulnerable of this population need to have the option of resettlement to a third country. The United States should accept its share of these vulnerable cases.”