Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, has said he opposes US military intervention in Syria, saying that he is “not in favour of going to war to make peace”.
“We made the mistake in Iraq. I hope we don’t make the mistake again in Syria,” he told Catholic News Service on Thursday after visiting some of the nearly half-million refugees who had fled to Jordan, Syria’s southern neighbour.
When asked what was worse, either allow Syria to use chemical weapons and do nothing or go in with limited military strikes, he quickly responded: “Neither is the proper answer.”
Cardinal McCarrick said he agreed with Pope Francis that diplomacy was the only way out of Syria’s two-and-a-half-year war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and created two million refugees. The cardinal said financial and other pressures could be brought to bear on the conflicting parties rather than resorting to US military might.
“We haven’t really exhausted all the opportunities. We have to get them to the table,” he said. “We should do this. I feel very strongly about this.”
Cardinal McCarrick participated in a high-level meeting of Christian and Muslim leaders in the Jordanian capital earlier in the week. Participants addressed challenges facing Arab Christians, notably violence against their communities, which is forcing some to flee their countries.
He also visited Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war. A number of the Iraqi refugees he met have been displaced and traumatised for a second time – they initially sought shelter in Syria following the 2003 US-led war that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The cardinal told of a young Iraqi Christian woman displaced for a second time; she was a victim of rape as a weapon of war. He said he sought to give Christ’s healing touch to her soul as she tries to regain her life in Jordan.
Meeting the refugees earlier that day, he said, was a “deja vu” experience for him.
“I remember having been here some years ago when the Iraqis were coming in and hearing stories of persecution, difficulties and real discrimination,” he said.
During a previous visit, he met an Iraqi father who said that he and his young sons narrowly escaped the 2010 militant attack on Baghdad’s Syriac Catholic cathedral. The al-Qaida-linked assault left at least 58 people dead, including two priests, after more than 100 parishioners were taken hostage.
But the family knew they had to leave Iraq for good after they were threatened by other extremists with the choice of either conversion to Islam or death.
These memories stirred as he listened to the Syrian refugees’ horror stories, he said.
“As a priest they would share their stories with me. I had the deep concern that these people are really going through a post-traumatic syndrome experience,” he said.
The cardinal said he empathised with Barack Obama over the tough decision about whether to attack the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The US president and some members of Congress argue that Assad must be punished for the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians outside of Damascus in August.
“I pity the president. What a terrible decision he has to make,” Cardinal McCarrick said. But he said he believes there is no there is no such thing as a limited military operation and understands that even some of Washington’s top military experts believe the same.
Jordan is heaving under the weight of refugees from neighbouring countries. It shelters more than half a million Syrian refugees. A similar number of Iraqis are still present a decade after the war that ousted Saddam Hussein.