"The context of violence in which we are plunged by attacks in different parts of the world leads us to reaffirm that respect for every human life is the condition of peace," says a declaration issued by the council.
Among the signers are Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, president of the French episcopal conference (www.cef.fr), and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris and member of the Permanent Council.
"In face of the eventuality of military operations unleashed by the United States against Iraq, it is part of our mission to remind that to resolve differences among nations, war cannot be considered as a means among others, which can be chosen according to considerations of interest or opportunity," the French bishops explain.
"For the U.N. Charter as well as for the Catholic ethical tradition, all recourse to the violence of arms, even if it has a desirable objective for the common good, constitutes such a grave decision that one cannot resort to it except in the most extreme situation and only if very strict conditions are met," the declaration adds.
"At present, the available information does not allow the affirmation that the conditions -- as summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2309) -- are met. We share this sentiment with the episcopal conferences that have expressed themselves on this question and with the Vatican observer to the U.N.," the bishops emphasize.
"Does the Iraqi regime, although condemnable for its violations of the rights of man within Iraq and of international law abroad, constitute an urgent and immediate threat, of the sort that makes it an evident case of legitimate defense?" they ask. "If it constitutes a real threat, should not recourse to all means be taken other than military to remove it?"
"The consequences of this 'adventure with no return,' which is the case of every war, are worrying to public opinion," the bishops continue.
"A confrontation between an Arab country and the United States will reinforce the argument of ideologues of radical Islam to arouse the hostility of unprotected and uninformed crowds against the 'West' (identified abusively with the United States) and its values of democracy and tolerance," they state.
"A war would widen the gulf that has already been dug between our peoples and those of that region, where, moreover, we can number numerous brothers in Christ, a gulf that makes deeper the feeling that the great powers use 'two different weight measures' in implementing U.N. resolutions in the region," the French prelates lament.
"Now more than ever, justice is the foundation and condition of peace," the declaration concludes.