Syria: The Peace That Never Was

The papacy of Pope Francis has been filled with great hope, joy, and exuberance. Catholics have this giddy feeling that we have something truly special in Pope Francis. It appears that this great and holy man can do anything. He has done so much good that it’s easy to forget what might be the biggest failure of the Pope Francis “revolution.” In September 2013, Pope Francis, The Vatican, and the USCCB urged Catholics to pray for peace in Syria. They urged governments not to rush into a conflict in Syria because violence could not stop violence. What was needed was prayer for the people of Syria and prayer to stop the slaughter that was going on during the civil war.

The United States elected not to intervene on behalf of the rebels fighting Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad, instead opting for negotiations to stop Assad’s use of chemical weapons. The Vatican and USCCB praised the decision to not pursue a course of military intervention. Pope Francis’ Secretary of State hailed the decision as a victory for peace in Syria.

However, there has been no peace in Syria. Instead, there has been death and destruction with no end in sight. While Western allies have begun rendering assistance to the mainstream rebels fighting Assad (too little, too late), the Vatican and Pope Francis have remained silent about the plight of the Syrian people who continue to face mass atrocities at the hands of Assad. Pope Francis, who has condemned ISIS and said they must be stopped, has not called on the international community to stop Assad’s crimes against humanity and for the removal of his murderous, criminal regime. John Allen, Associate Editor of Crux, wrote that the only “accomplishment” of the prayers for peace in Syria is that Assad has been allowed to remain in power, in part because of the efforts to oppose Western intervention in Syria.

A recently published article in Der Spiegel demonstrates the stomach-turning and gut-wrenching violence that the people face daily. The violent bombings of homes and town squares by Assad’s military forces, as described by the heroic efforts of journalist Christoph Reuter in his article “Waiting to Die in Aleppo,” only further demonstrates the abject failure of the Vatican’s (and USCCB’s) position on intervention in Syria. The indiscriminate slaughter of families, the demolishing of whole blocks with bombings, and the utter devastation caused to one of the most historic cities in the world by Assad’s forces will not be stopped by prayer alone. That much should be obvious at this point.

With all the attention that ISIS has garnered (and we certainly should be concerned with ISIS), Assad’s crimes no longer seem to capture our national attention. However, this article by Reuter should put Syria and the plight of the Syrian people who live surrounded by the sounds of death at the hands of Assad back on our radar. And the reality is that ISIS is unlikely to be defeated if Assad retains power, given how many Syrians justifiably hate him and his brutal regime. This article—and the brutality it describes—should put Syria on the front burner for the USCCB, the Vatican, and Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’ failure to defend human rights and condemn the murder of innocent civilians whose only crime is living in cities not controlled by Assad is a moral failing. The time has come, Pope Francis, for you to take a stand in favor or human rights and to chastise those who would violate the rights of men, women, and children by committing mass atrocities. The time has come for you to explain that we have a responsibility to protect these innocent victims. When Pope Francis speaks, Catholics and men and women of goodwill listen. The Vatican has a powerful role to play in international relations; it ought to help provide a moral compass for the rest of the world. The Vatican needs to exercise that power. It is time for the Pope to raise his voice in defense of those who cannot defend themselves.

Daniel Petri is a PhD student in Politics at Catholic University and a graduate fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies.