NEW YORK — Catholic moral theologians are calling the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani a violation of the just war tradition in a new statement released on Monday.

“The drone killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3rd by the United States was not morally justified,” reads the statement that was signed by over 60 ethicists following the joint gatherings of the Society of Christian Ethics, the Society of Jewish Ethics, and the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics which met in the nation’s capital earlier this month.

“Although Gen. Soleimani may have been responsible for the deaths of others previously, and while he was an ongoing source of violence, we remain unconvinced that there was no other reasonable way to restrain his activities,” the statement continues.

The statement includes signatures from a number of prominent Catholic theologians, among them William Cavanaugh, director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University; Bryan Massingale, professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University; Therese Lysaught of the Institute of Pastoral Studies, Loyola University Chicago; Lisa Sowle Cahill, professor of Theology at Boston College; and Tobias Winright, professor of Theological Ethics and Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University.

Signatories note that while some believe that killing can never be morally justified and others believe that it can, “we all agree that the decision to kill is a grave one warranting rigorous scrutiny.”

The statement also calls out President Donald Trump for his threat to target Iranian cultural sites if necessary, which would be in violation of international law.

“Disproportionate and indiscriminate uses of force are in direct violation of the international rule of law and the just-war criteria for the just conduct of armed force,” they write.

The statement also highlights the deaths of 176 jet passengers accidentally struck down by Iran as “a reminder of the evils and unintended consequences accompanying war even when the military action undertaken toward US military bases was meant to be, as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated it, “proportionate” and “against legitimate targets.”

While both sides seem to have de-escalated tensions, the signees worry that it is “only a ‘negative peace,’ one unlikely to last.”

“In keeping with the traditional just-war criterion of right intent, we urge the US and Iran to turn their attention to diplomatic efforts toward aiming at and establishing a just peace,” they plead.

William Cavanaugh told Crux that part the hope of the statement is to raise questions that have largely been ignored to date.

“The hope is that decisions about foreign policy might be based on something more than presidential ego, national self-interest, emotion, and lies,” he said. “I would like us to ask ethical questions and ask how we got entangled with Iran in the first place; what are we doing over there in the Middle East? How can we present ourselves as taking defensive measures when we are meddling in a region we know little about?”

Soleimani, who was killed by the United States in a drone strike while he was in Iraq on January 3, was the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Trump said that he ordered his killing based on evidence that he was targeting U.S. embassies, however Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has said that he “didn’t see” specific evidence of such threats although he agreed with the president that “probably” they were “going to go after our embassies.”

Following his death and the escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, the U.S. Catholic bishops issued two statements, both calling for peace and encouraging dialogue between the United States and Iran, however, the bishops did not collectively speak about the killing itself.

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“We urge once again that all parties, in these critical days, embrace peace rather than violence,” wrote Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Bishop David Malloy, chairman for the USCCB committee on international justice and peace on January 8.

“Peace has been all too elusive — in recent memory alone, war has caused hundreds of thousands of lives to be lost, as well as untold suffering and endemic instability,” they continued.

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212 

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