When is it good to kill another human being? The only correct answer, that offered by the Church, is “never”. As Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evildoer. But if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other too. (Mt 5:38-39). Or, as the Catechism states, “The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life.”
But too often the Church – by which I mean all Christians – has been content to answer theoretical questions about just war, capital punishment and self-defence, and to avoid questioning our own failures to build peace in order to avoid killing altogether.
Today, Pope Francis questions our attitudes and actions, helping to orient us towards the more radical demands of peace. In the face of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Francis has maintained a decidedly “pacifist” line, condemning the logic of war and the horrors of this particular conflict, in part by failing to align the Vatican with one military strategy or another. Francis opposes war and violence, period. For example, while he clearly supported Ukrainian men, women and children who have been devastated by war, he also chose not to explicitly condemn Russia for the invasion. This has been a source of frustration for many. Massimo Faggioli, a longtime defender of Pope Francis, criticizes relates the position of Francis. Francis’ stance and actions stand in stark contrast to calls to help Ukraine with weapons or air support, as footage from the eastern European country reveals the devastating consequences of Putin’s decision. After the invasion, conservative Catholic commentators also Continue for advance the the theory of just war.
Since World War II, according to mainstream opinion, there have been decades of unprecedented peace and economic growth, as nations have worked together to advance democracy and freedom around the world. But this rosy narrative covers the reality of our recent past. Wealth has not been equitably distributed, either between countries or within them, which has led to historical inequalities and social conflicts. Nor is there real peace, as innocent people around the world continue to be injured, killed, displaced and terrorized in endless military operations, religious conflicts, undemocratic repressions, genocides, etc.
The so-called peace of the past decades is paradoxically buttressed by the continued rise of armies, bellicose rhetoric and the specter of nuclear or chemical warfare. At any given time, tens of thousands of innocent people could be ruthlessly murdered for military victory, or for whatever reason. Meanwhile, wealthier nations can afford the weapons of war that protect their economic or strategic interests at home and abroad, while poorer nations are often left at their mercy, fighting each other. for scraps. History reveals that any peace based on a tenuous balance between fear and self-interest will eventually crumble, letting fear and self-interest drive leaders and peoples toward war and conflict.
Francis has rejected this view and the promise of peace based on the calculation of power, instead pleading for the hard work of “reconciliation and forgiveness.” As he explains in Fratelli Tutti, “It is not easy to overcome the bitter legacy of injustice, hostility and mistrust left by conflict. This can only be done by overcoming evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21) and by cultivating the virtues that promote reconciliation, solidarity and peace” (243).
Like pontiffs before him, however, he has found himself caught in the crosshairs as Catholics attempt to resolve apparent conflicts between patriotism or moral outrage at injustice with the radical teaching of the Church on War and Peace. This was especially true in the post-9/11 era when President George W. Bush continued the war on terror with an invasion of Iraq. Famously, Pope John Paul II did not approve of the American invasion, declaring in 2003: “War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity. This witness was criticized; for example, despite his status as papal biographer and closeness to the late pontiff, commentator George Weigel actively opposed the advice of the pope, instead defending the more dominant conservative position at the time in favor of “preventive war”.
Francis himself has been consistent in his call for peace, even urging victims of war to find non-violent solutions. This was not an easy lesson for people to accept. In 2013, Francois condemned both the use of chemical weapons in Syria as well as military interventions aimed at ending their use. In response, Robert Christian, founding editor of Millennium, written in 2014 that Francis’ position on Syria was wrong, saying, “The principle of solidarity calls on all nations to act to end the mass atrocities being perpetrated in Syria today.” This may require the use of force.
And just this year, Francis invited two colleagues and friendsa Ukrainian and a Russian, to walk together during the Via Crucis as a sign of solidarity, but there was a uproar, including criticism from leading Ukrainian Catholic prelates. More specifically, they asked about prayer language it was arguably not aligned with Ukrainian sentiment about the war and glossed over the evil of the Russian invasion. The language was eventually dropped for the event itself, though it is still available on the Vatican’s website.
Francis is not alone in his radical stance on peacebuilding. For example, Dr David Cochran wrote provocatively and persuasively for America on the subject of the morality of war. Cochran quotes the words of Francis in Fratelli Tuttiwhere Francis questions the very concept of “just war”, a theme that Francis recently returned with lots of reviews and condescending explainers. As Francis wrote,
We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always outweigh its supposed benefits. Under these conditions, it is very difficult today to invoke the rational criteria developed over the course of previous centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war! (258)
If there is no “just war”, then aren’t pacifists just naïve? This is the question that Doug Girardot posed in a recent America article. He replies: “It is not a principled excuse for cowardice, as detractors might describe it. Instead, it’s a hope for a future that, with God’s grace, is truly possible. Separately, Cochran also suggests that the type of pacifism advanced by Francis may be more pragmatic than theological, noting:
Perhaps the best argument against the continued place of just war theory in Catholic teaching is not that it is necessarily wrong in theory, but that it misunderstands the realities of war and peace today. today. Since the non-military alternatives increasingly emphasized in Catholic teaching are more effective in practice, keeping war theory sanctioning war alone may do more harm than good.
Concretely, then, what to do? Does Francis’ position mean that Ukraine should simply allow an invading Russia to take, kill and annex whomever and whatever it wants? Of course, there is a right to self-defense, and as Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti, “If a criminal has hurt me or a loved one, no one can stop me from seeking justice and making sure that person – or anyone else – will not hurt me. more harm, or to others. That is quite right; forgiveness does not prohibit it but requires it” (241).
But the question must be asked in response: how and to what end? Does the build up continue and the strengthening of NATO’s military capabilities is it based more on the principle of peacebuilding or on the principle of realpolitik? Is the nuanced and sober moral analysis regarding self-defense compatible with the stockpiling of devastating military weapons and the deployment of dehumanizing rhetoric? Readers may find it useful to know that, as Cochran writing“Researchers have found that nonviolent methods of noncooperation and disruption are two to three times more effective than military methods in defeating oppressive regimes or foreign occupiers, regardless of the brutality of the adversary.”
Of course, these issues are ultimately not ours to resolve unilaterally or on behalf of those who live and fight in a war zone. They simply point to a harsh reality. Cochran sums it up like this,
Circumstances that make war or abortion seem necessary, no matter how serious, still do not change the wrongfulness of murder. While this analysis may commit Catholic ethics to a position on war that most people would view as extreme and dangerous, moral consistency may well require it.
We know that peace will not reign when military superiority has been achieved, but only when the hearts of many are converted, when they see their enemy as a brother instead, and when they refuse to participate in the manipulative schemes of the greedy and power. hunger. Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti, “What is important is to create processes of encounter, processes that build a people that accepts differences. Let’s arm our children with the weapons of dialogue! Let’s teach them to fight the good fight of the culture of encounter! (217). Anything that opposes this conversion of heart must be rejected as both counterproductive and contrary to the Gospel.
Image: Francis prays with the wives of Ukrainian soldiers, Vatican News.