A sweeping coalition of Catholic leaders is calling on lawmakers to embrace President Barack Obama’s proposed deal with Iran to scale back the country’s nuclear program, insisting the plan is a good one and asking Congress to back off attempts to kill the agreement.
In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Monday, Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), praised President Obama’s tentative agreement with Iran, which would lift economic sanctions in exchange for limitations on their ability to create a nuclear weapon.
“We welcome the most recent step the United States and its international partners have taken with Iran and encourage our nation to continue down this path,” the letter read. “Now is the time for dialogue and building bridges which foster peace and greater understanding. We urge Congress to support these efforts.”
Cantú spoke directly to members of Congress, 164 of whom are Catholic, implicitly admonishing elected officials who oppose the deal, such as Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who likened the proposed pact to appeasing the Nazis during World War II. The letter also comes as the Senate moves to vote on a bill that would grant Congress the power to withhold lifting sanctions against Iran if they disapprove of the agreement’s ultimate outcome.
“…Our Committee continues to oppose Congressional efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multi-party agreement more difficult to achieve and implement,” Cantú wrote. “The alternative to an agreement leads toward armed conflict, an outcome of profound concern to the Church.”
“We urge Congress to support these efforts,” the letter concluded.
The bishops’ letter followed an earlier message from the USCCB backing the work of Secretary of State John Kerry, and closely resembles a statement released on April 9 by NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. The group is headed up Sister Simone Campbell, a nun who achieved fame for launching several “Nuns On The Bus” campaigns to warn against the influence of dark money in politics and advocate for the dignity of immigrants and the poor.
“The announcement of the forthcoming nuclear accord with Iran is a landmark in creating a more peaceful world,” the statement read. “NETWORK affirms this step for peace and is grateful that, when implemented, it will grant some relief to the Iranian people who have been suffering because of sanctions.”
Pope Francis has also expressed firm support for the deal, endorsing the plan during his 2015 Easter Sunday sermon and telling the assembled crowd at St. Peter’s Basilica “the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne … may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.” The U.S. State Department is reportedly actively working with the Vatican to help close the unfinished proposal, hoping to recreate the success of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations — an agreement Pope Francis personally helped broker last year. The pontiff has made nuclear disarmament a key goal of his papacy, with representatives from the Holy See hosting conferences and delegations on the subject at the United Nations and Vatican just in the past two months.
“Pope Francis has recently pushed the moral argument against nuclear weapons to a new level, not only against their use but also against their possession,” Archbishop Bernedito Auza, the Holy See’s Ambassador to the U.N., told Time.com.
Catholic support for the Iran deal is far-reaching enough to include even Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly, a lifelong Catholic who surprised many conservative pundits by voicing approval of the agreement, asking viewers to “give it a shot.”
Catholics supporting the Iran deal were joined by a diverse group of faith leaders on Tuesday evening, more than 50 of whom signed onto a letter speaking out in favor of the agreement.
“As Christian leaders in the United States, we welcome and support the Framework Agreement, announced by seven nations on April 2, to dramatically restrain the capacity of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons,” the letter read. “We believe this diplomatic path and process should be ardently pursued and given a chance to succeed.”
The letter included the names of leaders hailing from a broad selection of Christian groups, such as Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Dr. Thomas R. De Vries of the Reformed Church in America, Ronald J. Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, and author and activist Shane Claiborne. The statement, which quotes Pope Francis, was organized by Sojourners, a Christian advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.