June 18, 2005

Never Again War?

I've recently come across an interview from May 2, 2003 with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The interview itself primarily discusses the development of a compendium of the material presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But at the end of the interview, there is a question and an answer that I found very interesting, one which I had not heard anything about before. I don't know if this was perhaps covered by other bloggers at the time of the interview, or if it was somehow overlooked, but here it is:

Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.

The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war" ("Cardinal Ratzinger on the Abridged Version of Catechism: Compendium Expected Out in 2 Years," ZENIT.org-Avvenire, 05/02/2003).

One has to consider the first paragraph of this answer, on Pope John Paul II's opinion of the Iraq War, a non-starter. One might also consider the beginning of the second paragraph, which presents then-Cardinal Ratzinger's opinion on the rationality of the war, a non-starter. After all, the opinion of the late Pope John Paul II and the Roman Curia on the Iraq War is well known: they were, without question, in complete opposition to the war. What interests me, though, is the end of his answer, in which he questions whether or not "it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'"

This is language that should give any neoconservative Catholic theologian like George Weigel or Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (for whom I have great respect) some pause. While he acknowledged that Pope John Paul II didn't impose his position on the Iraq War as definitive doctrine, the man who was once prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is now pope asked a very serious question: Is it still licit to admit the existence of a just war? I am particularly intrigued by the use of the word licit by the man who was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: for him, the only alternative to licit is illicit, and as a theologian, as the Church's doctrinal enforcer, he was very much proposing that it may be illicit to consider any modern war a just war. It follows that then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wonders if there is ever any situation in which a Catholic should not be a pacifist in our modern world.

I think, now that he is pope, we're going to hear more from Pope Benedict XVI on this matter. I think there's a strong possibility that he's going to present us with something that neoconservative Catholics can't dismiss as "non-definitive" on the matter of war, and I have a feeling they're not going to like it. And I have a feeling that those who were inclined to dismiss the connection between the Holy Father's choice of Benedict as his name and the great peace pope at the beginning of the 20th century, Pope Benedict XV, are going to find themselves eating some serious crow.