April 11, 2005

Three U.S. Presidents Discuss John Paul's View of War

I originally posted these thoughts to In Today's News on April 8.

Amy Wellborn posted that day to a Newsweek article describing three U.S. president's discussing the late Holy Father's position on war and peace.

Actually, Clinton comes closest to understanding the late Holy Father's position, but still misses the mark somewhat.

I think he favored defensive wars, if you will, or wars in defense of innocent people being slaughtered. I think he thought that you shouldn't initiate war, even against oppressive people, unless there was some immediate human tragedy pending. That was the feeling I had in dealing with him.
Clinton is absolutely right that John Paul held the position that a nation should not initiate war, but that rule was absolute for John Paul and did not allow the exceptions Clinton implied.

However, John Paul did believe that an international body could initiate war if there "was some immediate human tragedy". Yet, even in this case, it could not be a "pending" tragedy.

Even in the cause of a humanitarian mission, an international body is bound by just war criteria not to act as an initiator of war until after non-violent resistance within the oppressed nation has been tried and failed, and all other diplomatic means have failed.

Here are the late Holy Father's own words from his January 2000 adress on the celebration of World Peace Day:
Clearly, when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defense prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor. These measures however must be limited in time and precise in their aims. They must be carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized and, in any event, never left to the outcome of armed intervention alone.
The Pope would never have approved of the United States acting alone against Milosovich, as Clinton implies.

If he approved of our actions against Milosovich, it was because it met the criteria of being a defense of innocent persons, was an absolute last resort, and was authorized by an international body.

Nor would the Pope ever approve of pre-emptive action to "destroy a threat before it materializes" as G.W. Bush advocates.

According to John Paul's catechism, just war is always in defense against agression, minimally understood as an "imminent threat" that is "certain, lasting, and grave".

There are many other references to the late Holy Father's teaching on war as well as references to many of the bishops conferences and the Catechims and Scriptures in my article, Church Teaching on the War in Iraq.

In John Paul's doctrine of war, the intitiator of killing is by definition the agressor, and by definition, morally wrong. Such a notion as pre-emption is an offense against the dignity of human persons revealed in the incarnation event.

Under no circumstances whatsover could one nation inititate war against another nation in John Paul's collective statements on war.

It is never justified to be the first party to initiate war. Without using the term "intrinsically evil", the Pope made his position known through abundant statements that he meant always and everywhere.

Indeed, the "proportionalist" or "consequentialists" moral theologians who were criticized by John Paul because they did not believe anything could ever be called "intrinsically evil" did hold the position that torture and wars of aggressions were two evils that could be considered "virtually intrinsic evils".

You know you must be doing something wrong when John Paul, Ratzinger and the conservatives in the Vatican are condemning your actions, and the liberals on the farthest end of the theological spectrum away from the Vatican are also claiming that you are wrong.

By the way, if any Roman Catholic fighting in Iraq is conflicted in conscience over what I am writing, you do have a moral obligation to consider seriosuly and prayerfully laying down your arms!

I would support any soldier who did this.

If nothing the Pope or I say causes you a conflict in conscience, I hold no hard feelings against you and pray for your safety and quick return. We all must follow our own conscience. I can support the troops without supporting the war.

We must always and everywhere obey conscience over anything anyone else tells us to do.

Obedience to conscience is more important than obedience to the Pope or any military commander or civil law. The Church teaches that God speaks directly to us in the depths of consience!

If you feel a moral obligation to fight in Iraq in the deepest parts of your conscience, I respect that you must obey your conscience.

But when one person's conscience is saying one thing, and another person's is saying something contrary about the exact same issue, if it is one and the same God who is speaking in the depth of conscience, one of the two people is making a mistake in what they hear God saying.

It seems obvious to me in my own conscience that a well formed Roman Catholic conscience, prayerfully guided by natural law reasoning, the Sacred Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, and the authority of the ordinary and universal magisterium examining these teachings objectively should be very deeply troubled in conscience if fighting in Iraq.