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AT ODDS WITH THE POPE: LEGITIMATE AUTHORITY & JUST WARS

When the Pope and the bishops worldwide unite virtually unanimously in clear and repeated opposition to a war, the Catholic conscience should treat this matter with utmost seriousness.

At Odds With the Pope?

At a recent campus discussion about the bishops' authority to speak on matters of war, much airtime was given to whether the bishops had overstepped their competence in judging such matters. Near the end of the session, a genuinely perplexed student stood and echoed the disciples' question to Jesus: "To whom should we go? If we can't rely on the church's judgment in these matters, where should we form our opinions?"

It is one thing to argue, on just-war grounds, against the overwhelming judgment of the pope and worldwide bishops, that the recent campaign in Iraq was morally justifiable. It is another thing to argue that the pope and bishops are not qualified to make such judgments. Neoconservative Catholic commentators and others have been trying to mitigate their embarrassment over being at odds with the pope on this issue by claiming that it is not really the church's call to make. Decisions about if and when we Catholics should kill should be left to the president. I believe this line of thinking is dangerously wrong.

The problem, I believe, is a fundamental inability of many U.S. Catholics and other Christians to imagine being out of step with the American nation-state. The gospel does not always magically coincide with American foreign policy.
An example of this can be found in the March 25, 2003 letter to Catholic military chaplains from the U.S. Military Services Archbishop Edwin O'Brien. In referring to the ongoing debate over moral justification of the war, O'Brien tells his chaplains, "Given the complexity of factors involved, many of which understandably remain confidential, it is altogether appropriate for members of our armed forces to presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments, and therefore to carry out their military duties in good conscience." The archbishop assumes that "our leadership" will be understood as referring to the president of the United States, not to the pope and the bishops of the universal church to which the chaplains belong. The archbishop continues, "It is to be hoped that all factors which have led to our intervention will eventually be made public, and that the full picture of the Iraqi regime's weaponry and brutality will shed helpful light upon our president's decision." In other words, we may hope that, after the killing is done, it will be found to have been justified. There is always a chance some weapons of mass destruction will turn up after all. In the meantime, Catholic soldiers may safely leave responsibility for moral decision making on the war to the president. The judgment of the church does not merit a mention in the archbishop's letter.

Michael Novak and George Weigel have applied this argument not merely to soldiers and chaplains but to all Catholics. In an opinion piece in the New York Times (February 12, 2003), Novak says that it belongs to public authorities, and not the church, to judge on matters of war for two reasons: the former have the "primary vocational role and constitutional duty to protect the lives and rights of their people" and they are "privy to highly restricted intelligence." Others have a right to voice their opinions, but "final judgment" belongs to the state. Here Novak cites the Catechism (2309): "The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy [of war] belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good." Weigel (America, March 31, 2003) cites the same passage from the Catechism and declares that, although "religious leaders and religious intellectuals" should help inform the public debate, "the call is made by others," namely, "responsible public authorities."

It is true but trivial to point out that the nation-state and not the church makes war. Clearly Novak and Weigel have something more in mind. The "call" being made is about the moral status of the war. According to Novak and Weigel, the final judgment on that status belongs to the state—but what does "final judgment" mean? Does it mean that the pope's judgment, expressed through his nuncio that the current war is "unjust and immoral," is simply overridden by the president's judgment, and that the pope's judgment should be regarded by Catholics as null and void? The implication seems to be that, although the pope and bishops should be thanked for their input, Catholics should accept the president's judgment and support the war.

Has the church really handed over its moral decision making on war to the leaders of the secular nation-state? Weigel recognizes that the passage cited from the Catechism is the traditional just-war criterion of competent, or legitimate, authority. He correctly states that in its medieval context this criterion was originally promulgated to separate war from mere murder or brigandage. In other words, only civil authorities, and not private individuals, can declare war. Given that the civil authorities in Christendom were, as John Neville Figgis has noted, "the police department of the church," there was no sense that the application of the just-war theory was somehow taking place outside the church. Weigel does not acknowledge this, but merely asserts: "For the past several hundred years, 'competent authority' has resided in the nation-state."

Doubtless, much has changed, for better and for worse, in the transition from the medieval to the modern world, but where along the line did the church hand over to the secular nation-state its responsibility to make judgments on the grave moral issue of war? The passage in question from the Catechism lays an obligation on civil authorities to consider moral truth, and not merely reasons of state, in deciding issues of lethal force. It nowhere limits the church's own competence in these matters. The Code of Canon Law (747,2) makes this plain: "The church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls."

The Catholic tradition has understood the just-war theory as an aid to moral judgment in the most serious of moral matters: the taking of human life.
Weigel and others regard the just-war theory as a tool of statecraft. The Catholic tradition, in contrast, has understood the just-war theory as an aid to moral judgment in the most serious of moral matters: the taking of human life. For this reason, the claim made by Archbishop O'Brien and Michael Novak that the president is privy to better information, even if true, would be of secondary importance at best. Moral judgment in the Christian tradition is primarily a matter not of information, but of being formed in the virtues proper to a disciple of Christ. There is no reason to assume that the leaders of a secular nation-state are so formed, nor that the principles guiding the Christian moral life are at the heart of American foreign policy. War planners are always going to think their wars are justified. There is also no guarantee, to put it mildly, that moral considerations will trump those of narrowly defined national interest and corporate profit when the foreign-policy establishment creates its agenda.

The notion that we should hand over responsibility for judging the justice of war to the president on the basis of his superior access to information is profoundly undemocratic. Furthermore, there are reasons to believe that the president is not privy to better information than the rest of us. In the current case, for example, George W. Bush made public every possible scrap of information supporting the attack on Iraq. The only information kept from our view was that calling into question the necessity for war. Still, the main point is that information is secondary to moral formation in the making of moral judgments. For the church to defer to the nation-state in making moral judgments on war would be to court disaster. In a recent letter, the Romanian Catholic bishop of Ohio, John Botean, forbids members of his diocese to participate in or support the war against Iraq. After citing the same passage from the Catechism that Novak and Weigel cite, Bishop Botean comments that "the nation-state is never the final arbiter or authority for the Catholic of what is moral or for what is good for the salvation of his or her soul. What is legal can be evil and often has been. Jesus Christ and his church, not the state, are the ultimate informers of conscience for the Catholic."

Right-wing commentators have hastened to assert the right of the individual Catholic to dissent from the judgment of the pope and bishops on contingent matters of prudential judgment, such as the application of the just-war theory in a particular case. They are correct to do so. One need only cite the cases of Argentina and Rwanda to recognize that the judgments of bishops in matters of war and peace are not infallible. The problem is that we hear nothing from these commentators about any such right to dissent from the judgment of the state. In the United States there is no legal right to selective conscientious objection. The Catholic soldier cannot dissent from the president's judgment that this particular war is just. As for us Catholic civilians, are we allowed to dissent once the "call" has been made, and the president has issued his "final judgment" that the war is just?

The individual conscience of the Catholic is indeed important in these matters, but the current problem is not that U.S. Catholics are taking the opposition to the war by the pope and the bishops too seriously, regarding it as binding and infallible. The problem is that most Catholics seem only too willing to overlook the church's position and regard the state's judgment as binding. At home, a Pew survey found that, asked to name the most important influence on their thinking on the Iraq war, only 10 percent of respondents cited their religious beliefs. Forty-one percent named the media. While the survey did not distinguish between Catholics and non-Catholics, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the church's position on the war is not being taken overly seriously.

‘Jesus Christ and his church, not the state, are the ultimate informers of conscience for the Catholic.’ Pope John Paul II's opinion should count more than Donald Rumsfeld's or Bill O'Reilly's.
To say that Catholics in good conscience may dissent from the pope and bishops on this matter leaves open the question of what is a good conscience. According to traditional Catholic belief, a good conscience is a well-formed conscience. Moral formation involves becoming a follower of Jesus Christ through the gifts of the Holy Spirit available in the sacraments of the church and the practices of Christian charity. The formation of conscience should be done, insofar as it is possible, in communion with the whole people of God and its pastors. Of course, we should reject the idea of blind obedience to the political whims of individual bishops. When the pope and the bishops worldwide unite virtually unanimously in clear and repeated opposition to a war, however, the Catholic conscience should treat this matter with utmost seriousness. Pope John Paul II's opinion should count more than Donald Rumsfeld's or Bill O'Reilly's. At the very least, the Catholic should not simply abdicate moral judgment in this matter to leaders of a secular nation-state.

The problem, I believe, is a fundamental inability of many U.S. Catholics and other Christians to imagine being out of step with the American nation-state. It should not be so difficult to suppose that the gospel does not always magically coincide with American foreign policy, or that Jesus has something to say that is irreconcilable with what Dick Cheney or Richard Perle thinks. Let us imagine that significant numbers of Catholics in the military—not everyone, perhaps, even just 10 percentagreed with the pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that this particular war is unjustifiable, and decided to sit it out. Let us imagine that significant numbers of Catholic civilians—again, not necessarily everyonedid not agree that the president's judgment was final, and found ways to protest and refuse to support the war effort. Would we be witnessing the church overstepping the boundaries of its authority, or the dangerous mixing of politics and religion? No. We would be witnessing Catholics recovering their primary loyalty to Christ from the idolatry of the nation-state. And we would be witnessing, for once, the just-war theory being used to limit violence rather than justify it.

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June 2, 2004

William T. Cavanaugh is associate professor of theology at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is the author, most recently, of "Theopolitical Imagination" (T. & T. Clark).

This article first appeared in the May 23, 2003 issue of Commonweal Magazine. Reprinted with permission. © 2003 Commonweal Foundation. All rights reserved. For subscripions: www.commonwealmagazine.org.

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READER COMMENTS
01.08.07   troubledgoodangel says:
As a Catholic theologian I follow the Scripture and the advice I get from the Paraclete, directly and through the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. We are all prophets, priests, and kings and as such we have great responsibilities. As prophets, we listen to God and we convey to others what we hear. As priests, we offer to God our lives as a pure sacrifice in defense of His Kingdom. And as kings, we strive to preserve the sanctity and dignity that befits the children of God that we are! We were created in the image and likeness of God and thus were given the ability to think and to choose according to the dictates of our conscience. Our God is a Prince of Peace, all-right. But on earth, there are Powers and Potentialities clutched in a mortal battle between good and evil. The fact that we pray for peace daily and pray for the "deliverance from evil," indicates that evil is still here! Otherwise Christ would not have told us to pray for such deliverance! Wars happen while we are in the world. It would be unwise for us to deny it, or worse to say that we should be "pacifists" always! Why? Because evil needs to be fought against, and prayer is not always sufficient to vanquish a Hitler and to save the Jews from Holocaust! Tyrants are beheading hundreds of innocents in Iraq right now. Children are being slaughtered in Beslan. Of course we could leave all the solutions to God under the excuse that "He can win always by Himself." But my conscience tells me that we must also exercise the responsibility we have been given, and confront the evil at times!

06.20.06   dee65 says:
As a first time reader, former member of the military and expatriate of America I found the article raised some good points. In these times I think it is important for all Americans to act on their personal beliefs rather than those prescribed them by the media or the government. I think the government in America is a discrace and I am sure the founding fathers are rolling over in their graves at what America has become. I have worked abroad for 10 years and have noticed the steady decline of support, admiration and belief in America by non American's abroad. It is astounding to me how poorly we look to the rest of the world and about time that we start to hold ourselves and our government accountable for that perception. If more Catholics would act as they believe rather than as their gorvernment tells them maybe their government would change. Imagine if as the article suggests 10% of the Catholics in the military said NO to going to war. The U.S. government would have to rethink it's war plan. There already is a critical shortage of personnel willing to go, even that small percentage could be enough to be a death nail for the war hawks. I would love to live in my country but as long as GW and his crowd are in power I will continue living elsewhere and not put my tax money into their greedy pockets.

05.02.06   Iceburner says:
The likelihood of anyone other than ~1100 who are registered reading this is small. I have read for almost two years articles regarding how this war is unjust. I moved out of the US 2+ years ago. My opinions have become more open to other points of view besides those of the left or right in the US. In my cursory, limited understanding of Just War Theory, every war, from some point of view is unjust. I am suspect of all democratic reasoning. I suspect Hell is a thriving democracy. Counting bodies to make a point has been done since Sodom and Gomorra and always leaves out the majority and those not needed to make the point. I am also suspect of the Just War Theory itself. How many people is an 'elected' leader of a country allowed to kill, murder, torture before a neighbor stops him? Michael Eisbrener

01.23.06   imaginespace says:
A just war is a just war. Noam Chomsky's analysis of just wars proves the Pope's declaration. Mega-strong country attacks weak country, since Mega-strong country is guaranteed victory. How small is this victory in Iraq?: www.imaginespace.org

01.15.06   ki.otay says:
I thank Prof. Cavanaugh for his article. However, the concepts of 'legitimate authority' and 'just wars', in this context, imposes a slant and frame of reference that is not very helpful. Half of Christendom today live in the Third world. In many countries, except South America, Christians are a minority. Because of American foreign policy, partly, the percentage of Christians in Middle East countries since the 1950s have diminshed considerably. In Iraq, many have had to leave. When I met the Archbishop of Baghdad before the events of Sept. 11, 2001, he mentioned that they were 'in peril'.The revered (during the Vietnam war) Buddhist monk, Van Trich, wrote an 'open letter' to Mr. Bin Laden after the events of September 11, 2001. (available in archives of www.beliefnet.net). He began by stating that Mr. Laden was not yet proven guilty in Court, which is also an important point regarding citizens of many countries world-wide being killed today in this 'war on terrorism', many in jails waiting for their secret trials in a judicial process in American military courts. (Mr. Laden, or a double, later claimed in an audio-visual message, with some bravado, that he did call the Sept. 11 attacks). The other point Van Trich made was that the Vietnamese never took their struggle for freedom outside their own country. Of course, that criterion is interesting, and should apply to US foreign policy as well. And the issue of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons and the like. Regarding Christendom, documents made public a couple of years ago show that the US and British Governments provided advanced commando training to the Indonesian military for use in the oppression of the East Timorese. The East Timorese have never ever been any threat to the security interests of the US or Great Britain !The British claimed it was to set a standard of military operations and ultimately foster 'human rights'. That's quite Orwellian ! A US State Department senior decision-maker wrote a 'memo' for US personnel in Indonesia stating that 'pluralism' should be discouraged, as it would hurt 'investment' considerations. Aren't pluralism and democracy related like fish and water? The son of the former dictator, Suharto, was involved in the training. His father, as head of the military after 1965 caused the massacre of some 3 million Indonesian-Chinese. Charges have never been laid against anyone. Regarding the references to 'just war', one thing does stand out: it is the matter of 'proportion'. No litany here ! I'll hint at it with one small recent example. A CIA 'field officer', in an interview promoting his book, 'Jaw Breaker', had this to say: (a) CIA 'field commanders' make decisions, not politicians in Washington. (b) after the intervention in Afghanistan began, CIA operatives 'located' Mr. Bin Laden in a spot in the Afghan mountains. Air strikes were called, and 15,000 lb bombs were dropped. One can imagine all the senseless killing of wild life, birds, damage to the delicate ecology of the region, and nomadic tribes just wiped out. WHY? In an interview with a British newspaper, Bin Laden's (then 18 yr. old) son, said his father left in some 10 or more 18-wheeler trucks, some with satellite dishes on top. Now, I understand some experts claim that the satellite technology on a bad day can pick up and follow a Volkswagen ! As Peggy Lee may have sung: 'Is that all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing' ! There is a lot of that, isn't there?In addition to the matter of proportion in 'just war' theory (I am referring to St. Aquinas, of course), there is a much more serious issue of 'vision' in general, and 'moral vision' in particular. When a small clique form a 'club' (and they did), and claim the 21st century is the American century, and make certain plans to make it so (before Sept 11, 2001), and some of these people become central to decision-making in the US Government, and at the World Bank, the citizens of the world, and Americans I hope, should not only be morally outraged, but also be very concerned and alarmed. While I like the article of Prof. Cavanaugh, in its narrow context (in my view), I am deeply troubled at the very jingoistic frame of reference that much of the discussion is taking place, the fear generated to discuss outside very narrow American interest (flawed, in my view) with absolutely no appreciation of the recurring and excessive use of military force, the sharing of technologies of oppression with despots they have often put in power in the first place, a war against the peoples of the earth as if their lives, their families, and their communities, and their aspirations are of absolutely no consequence. It is this that is very troublesome. I do not like the word 'spy' to be associated with 'bearing witness', or with my spiritual and ethical 'anchor'. However, you have chosen it, and in my dictionary, among others things of coarse, 'spy' is (as a verb) to 'catch sight of' and coupled with 'glass' (i.e., spyglass) refers to (as noun) to a 'small telescope' (not microscope). That's the 'faculty' that excites me, in a spirit of reverence, equality, and common purpose. It is a lack of the latter three that is part of the problem, obviously. DUM SPIRO SPERO - when I breathe, I hope ! - Ki.Otay

12.25.05   Behold says:
We Catholics are a divided naive lot

12.05.05   tj says:
The church also has legitimate authority with regards to abortion, yet catholics worldwide often dismiss the popes stance on this issue. My question is , regarding the iraq war was the pope speaking "ex cathedra" as was a question of mine regarding the pope who gave permission prior to the crusades. It seems , that unless it is from the chair of peter, then all followers are not enjoined to follow such edicts.

08.19.05   motormouth says:
The issue is whether the Church, with the whole weight of her authority, has it within her power to pronounce authentically on tje justice or injustice of a particular war. The Church has the undoubted right authentically to determine moral principles in the abstract. She has the power authentically to judge of dogmatic facts, and to do so infallibly. (A dogmatic fact is a fact which is combined with a rule of faith or divine law in order to yield a judgement. It is analogous to a juridical fact which is brought to a civil or ecclesiastical tribunal and tested against the law to determine the merits of the case).But the application of established moral principles to the use of the sword (Romans 13:1-7 ) or to facts which bear on the practical means of attaining the common good are reserved to the State. If it were otherwise, then we would have to admit the now-discredited theory that the Church has direct power over civil affairs.

08.16.05   tz says:
I'm rather late to this discussion, but I recently posted an analysis on my blogMy point simply is use any criteria you want to justify your war - however you cannot use different criteria to justify one war and a different set to justify another. The total death toll from Al Quaeda's attacks on the US (including the USS Cole which could be considered a military target) is less than the lowest estimate of the civilians killed in Iraq so far. Fewer innocents died from the terrorists on 9/11/01 than in abortion clinics on 9/10/01."Because I want to" is not a prudential judgment.There are many brutal dictators, many of whom we support (e.g. Uzbekistan, at least as long as we could use their airbases). There are many nations trying to acquire WMDs. So do we create a policy and then attack prudentially starting at the top of the list and end when we've reached a proper threat level? Or do we say we want to attack X, and find 100 inconsistent (if not actually false) reasons to justify the attack only on X, and go attack X, leaving dozens of other worse atrocities unmitigated and unavenged?Such can never be a just war. Justice would require us warring on the greatest evils first. And many of those evils are within our borders. And those which are external are inconvienient.Or put another way (in my argument in the Blog) - if Abortion in the USA would get high marks on the criteria listed in the catechism were it termed a "war on abortion", yet we would not consider such a "just war" (de facto if we don't wage it), then any other proposed war that gets lower marks on the criteria by definition cannot be a "just war". Unless simple arithmetic isn't part of logic. Do the math. If you dare.

07.11.05   spy52 says:
Excellent article in that it states the obvious that those seeking safety, comfort and self-enhancement fear to utter. However, it ignores the essential moral cowardice of many "conservative" intellectuals, including those marketed as Catholic, that is the root of much of this problem.Just as "liberal" intellectuals soft pedal the obvious on the issues of abortion and contraception, effectively denying the authority of the legitimate leaders of the church, so these conservative intellectuals do the same when it comes to the perceived no-go areas of those who finance their lifestyles and promote their careers. Both abuse their intellects and skills by prostituting them in the service of their financial sponsors in the shaping of arguments that will be acceptable to those who finance them.Who could know more about the internal workings of Iraq than the Pope? There were priests sprinkled all over that country seeing and hearing much that was never registered by Western governments. Even from a pragmatic standpoint alone, the Vatican would obviously be privy to more and better quality information, especially since Iraq was for decades considered by US intelligence agencies to be a sort of "black hole" on the order of North Korea.No, the real problem of those who abuse their Catholic credentials to shill for the Iraq war in defiance of the legitimate authorities in the Church is that their conclusions are dictated by their financial sponsors and they lack the courage to be honest about who their true authorities are. They are the right wing version of those who have used Catholic credentials to promote contraception under the rubric that the Pope just doesn't know what he is talking about and some day we will get a Pope who finally is obedient to material wealth and stops saying such embarassing things. Both, in essense have the same bottom line: The Vatican must be brought to obey those with the money and worldly power -- or its authority over the masses must be undermined.The bankruptcy of many heavily promoted "Catholic conservative" intellectuals (who have arrogated to themselves an authority that they believe is greater than that of popes and bishops) has thus been exposed to the clear view of all.Where are the courageous saints who will stand in solidarity with the Pope and the bishops?Where are those who will chose God fist, instead of obedience to a right wing or left wing agenda?How can the nations (e.g. Iran, Burma, etc.) come to the true faith when the self-characterized promoters of the true faith are busy dividing its adherents and sowing rebellion against its legitimate authorities?

06.16.04   eric_in_IN says:
QuoteOriginally posted by: sjcyoungEric Wyatt says:"In other words, in this case, I would give even more pause to my thinking if the messages had come from the US Bishops or someone who was directly effected by the threat of terrorism . . ."Mr. Wyatt's message is much too long for me to comment on in its entirety, but the sentence above jumped out at me. Since when is the US the only country subject to terrorism? We have in fact suffered much less than most of the rest of the world from wars and terrorism.And, in case Mr. Wyatt has forgotten, the Pope was gravely wounded HIMSELF in an assassination attempt in 1981. So I think John Paul II qualifies as someone who was and is "directly [a]ffected by the threat of terrorism."Sorry to have taken so long to reply to you. I've had trouble getting the forums to alert me when a thread is posted to...regardless...I in no way meant to indicate that the US is the only country subject to terrorism. My arguement was purposly narrow, looking only at the threat of terror against the US. I was trying to communicate that, as an American, I would have appreciated hearing more from other Americans who are/were/will be effected by this specific threat. How should we address the threat we feel/felt in a way consistent with Church teaching? At what point does a "threat" become a legitimate enough reason for a pre-emptive strike? Do we have to wait until a shot is fired? If there ever is a Just War, why doesn't this one fit that definition, from an _American perspective_? In other words, when we thought/knew that Iraq had the destruction of America in mind, I didn't take much comfort from a French or Italian Bishop telling me not to worry about it. Is that the wrong attitude to have? I don't know...perhaps...What I had intended was to show a distinction between the Euro-centered bishops telling America what is or isn't in its best interest, vs. hearing the same words from an American perspective. I had, and continue to have, doubts about the sincerity of some of the comments coming from certain bishops that almost always tend to be anti-American. They seem to have less to do with the Faith and more to do with an intrinsic dislike of Americans. That, at least, is my perception. I would have liked to have heard a reasonable alternative to our actions offered, and the UN is not reasonable at this point. I would have prefered to hear the words, "the Just War theory doesn't apply well to acts of terror or agents of terror, but here are some suggestions for how to weigh your actions." I would, just one time, like to hear something about how the American battle plan has been constructed to protect innocent civilians, often to the detriment of its own objectives. Instead, what I heard was, give the UN more time. What I heard was, the threat probably isn't too great (even though we really can't point to any hard evidence to counter intel information)... I was unwilling to support that suggestion.Also, I have not, by any means forgotten the assasination attempt of the Pope. The Pope's response in forgiving the man who shot him was one of the turning points which started a series of dominoes falling, eventually leading me to cross the Tiber and come into full communion with the Catholic Church.That said, I'm also pretty sure that had a guard or any other person in the crowd seen the assasin aiming at the Pope in time to act preventatively, such an action would have be taken.Warmest regards,Eric

06.15.04   Jonathan Kinsman says:
sjcyoung:And you are absolutely correct. Eric's comment might have been stated that way for rhetorical effect.My comments and questions attempted to raise the issue that whether we prefer it this way or not, our country (being the big club on the block -economically and culturally) will bear the brunt of any violence directed towards 'western' style civilization. Sometimes our religious leaders view the larger problems and issues through narrow lanes of doctrine and dogma.The ideal is good, it is what we must work towards, but, the reality of terror and violence against the US and Israel and (fill in the blank) because of WHO we are and WHAT we believe is the everyday reality.It is a challenge, Jesus' teachings in this new century. The greater questions may be when does an individual have the moral right to respond to violence: before a likely threat, the moment of attack, a short period after the attack, or, never at all.I think this is where the hysteria goes (in both directions).Jonathan

06.14.04   sjcyoung says:
Mr. Kinsman: my reply to Eric was narrowly and deliberately targeted at the common and rather hysterical idea that we in the US are somehow uniquely threatened by terroristic mayhem, which I think is incorrect. The rest of the questions you raise are interesting but not what I was talking about at the time.

06.14.04   Jonathan Kinsman says:
According to research, Agca claimed to have been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In true terrorist fashion whenever a person of note not directly connected with the perceived enemy is murdered or attacked, the PF denied it.An Italian court sentenced Agca to life imprisonment. True, our Holy Father sought clemency and the President Ciampi in June of 2000 granted it. However, the Turkish government was waiting for his extradition to try Agca for murder of a newspaper editor. He was found guilty and is serving a life sentence in Turkey.He is quoted as saying, "To me [the Pope] was the incarnation of all that is capitalism."It doesn't get any clearer than that re the hate for things Western, Ideas American, Lifestyle Non-Islamic.I don't think Mr. Agca is Catholic.Still, it is interesting that clemency was granted with the Italian government knowing that Agca was going to face criminal charges back in Turkey. Sort of a "washing of one's hands." Still, our Holy Father did forgive him. If I survived a violent attack and my assailant was imprisioned, I would forgive him. I would forgive him if the State found him guilty of attempted murder. And if I was murdered, you would not know this, but I assume (if in Heaven) I would forgive him for murdering me, but I don't believe I would be able to work for his early release. It is beyond my understanding.Still I appreciate the Pope being above and beyond my commonality and desire for contrapasso in society and (I would pray and hope) in the after life.

06.12.04   spy1 says:
Mehmet Ali Agca was captured immediately after he shot the Pope point-blank. The Pope publicly forgave him soon after, visited him and requested clemency for him, which was granted; according to what I read, the president of Italy gave Agca a pardon and he was sent back to Turkey. I think he went to prison there, for other things (?). I thought I read that he became a Catholic, but I'm not sure about that part. At any rate, I think this shows that JPII practices what he preaches. How many of us would ask for a pardon for someone who had just tried to kill us?

06.11.04   Jonathan Kinsman says:
sjcyoung:I am curious: did the Papal security force (the Swiss Guards) tackle the Pope's assailant?Did they or the Italians arrest and try and sentence him to prison?Was there a response to an act of terror or hate here?Or was there a 'turning of the other cheek'?I would wager that some responses need to be stronger than the attack, if the attack is part of a lengthy and intensifying campaign against our citizens, our allies, our way of life, our religious traditions and our country. Look to the history of militant Islam against Christianity (beginning with the expulsion of the Knights of Jerusalem and Malta and St. John from Christian holy places by Moslems in the 1090s and threading through Charles Martel, Constantinople, Lepanto, and Vienna in the 1600s.This is fascism with a (selfstyled) religious face.Our terrorist attacks involve our sad history of how we treated our black brethren: the mob lynchings, the Jim Crow laws. We have our own brand of extreme religious fanatics (Aryan Church and other vermin) who hate Catholics, Jews, Moslems, Immigrants, blacks, et cetera. Remember Oklahoma City? Look at our popular culture and our young (teenagers) killing themselves and others (Columbine and recent statistics on teenage suicides).There is a war. It has two fronts: the mundane, everyday secular world and the interior realm of millions of souls who many of us ignore and do not connect with.We must be the Church Militant or I am afraid we will become the Church Extinct.

06.11.04   sjcyoung says:
Eric Wyatt says:"In other words, in this case, I would give even more pause to my thinking if the messages had come from the US Bishops or someone who was directly effected by the threat of terrorism . . ."Mr. Wyatt's message is much too long for me to comment on in its entirety, but the sentence above jumped out at me. Since when is the US the only country subject to terrorism? We have in fact suffered much less than most of the rest of the world from wars and terrorism.And, in case Mr. Wyatt has forgotten, the Pope was gravely wounded HIMSELF in an assassination attempt in 1981. So I think John Paul II qualifies as someone who was and is "directly [a]ffected by the threat of terrorism."

06.10.04   spy1 says:
All matters of human concern have moral and religious implications, so the magisterium has the right and duty to comment, to try to influence them, even to press the faithful to act appropriately. War, like abortion, human trafficking, etc., is certainly one of these. No one would come out and say that they gospel must be wrong if Dick Cheney or whoever is at odds with it. However, many people act that way! Our political and cultural leaders often respond to events in ways that are the polar opposite of turning the other cheek--and Christians support their actions anyway. I tend to think the U.S. government is superior to any other that has existed, but all governments, when push comes to shove, act with blatant self-interest and with violence, and neither is Christ-like. Many of us act in just the same way, when we feel threatened. Jesus didn't say, "Love your enemy, but if he's really going to hurt you, kill him." What He really said scares us. And it should!

06.09.04   eric_in_IN says:
The final paragraph of this article betrays a sort of bias, I think. Let me expand that idea below:Quote"The problem, I believe, is a fundamental inability of many U.S. Catholics and other Christians to imagine being out of step with the American nation-state."Throughout the article, it is assumed that anyone who came to disagree with the Pope's judgement on the issue of the justness of this war did so in a reckless way, bowing to the State instead of kneeling at the foot of the Cross. Being in conflict with who we are as Americans is not that unusual after all...Catholics and other Christians are often "out of step" with the "American nation-state". In fact, the more in line we are with our doctrine, the more often we are already "out of step", but being out-of-step with our culture/government/community isn't the only way to judge whether or not we are in line with our religion. In other words, it isn't a "if x then y" scenario, rather a "if x then MAYBE y, MAYBE not". Now, I would grant that the idea of allowing our freedoms, our safety, and our form of government (those things that actually make up the concept of America) to be completely destroyed would give me pause, because like most Americans, I believe there is an intrinsic benefit to the method of government we have in force. But the idea that I would cringe at being labeled "out of step" is silly considering my beliefs on abortion, homosexual marriage, morality, etc...Perhaps the problem also comes more from the repeated anti-American statements that come from certain sectors of the hierarchy regarding matters that are not within the realm of the magisterium. In other words, in this case, I would give even more pause to my thinking if the messages had come from the US Bishops or someone who was directly effected by the threat of terrorism, and had offered some real ideas for alternatives. Even better, if they had been active for the 12 year build up to the conflict in pressing for a peaceful solution. Instead, they offered this alternative: utilize the UN. (In fact, the idea that the UN would be useful is the ONE THING that gave me peace with ultimately disagreeing with Rome on this issue...that the UN was their "alternative" made much of their reasoning illigitimate to me, frankly.)This doesn't mean that only if you are effected do you have a right to offer opinion/judgement...rather, that it is easier to dismiss someone percieved to be in an Ivory Tower...yes, that is partly our own fault and something we have to be warry of, but it IS an issue nonetheless, especially when there have been so many anti-American sentiments expressed by various European Bishops which consistently fail to recognize the good with the bad...the President and the leaders of the military ultimately have the responsiblity (and, I would argue, the right) for the protection of the people. The burden placed upon them is much higher, in this case, than that placed upon the Pope. His role is advisory, in nature, in such an instance. I respect the Pope's opinion and the sentiments expressed. I feel they needed to be considered. I also feel that they WERE in fact considered, and ultimately a different course was plotted. Just because a different conclusion was reached, doesn't mean the words of the Holy Father weren't considered, but as far as I can tell, he didn't issue an infallible statement on this issue...Quote"It should not be so difficult to suppose that the gospel does not always magically coincide with American foreign policy, or that Jesus has something to say that is irreconcilable with what Dick Cheney or Richard Perle thinks. "This line makes me laugh a little, because the premise behind it is so ridiculous. No offense meant to the author, but where would you find anyone who would suppose that if the gospel and Dick Cheney are at odds on an issue then the gospel must be wrong?!? and, really, this is what this line presupposes...the "it should not be difficult" implies "it is difficult for some people but it shouldn't be"...the real difficulty isn't from the Gospel, here, anyway. If the Gospels said, "the US shouldn't make war on Iraq" then this would all be moot. The difficulty lies in the bottom line fact that the Church has taught that war is not in and of itself evil. There can be just wars. The difficulty comes in making that determination. The difficulty for me, specifically, was that the anti-war position did little to address the complexity of the terrorist threat via a "Just War Theory, Updated to Reflect the Modern Reality" and turned to the UN as the method to resolve the conflict. I mean, really...if the Pope had said, "I will resolve this conflict between the US and Iraq", maybe...but the UN?!?!?! please...and there didn't seem to be any effort to say, "well, you know, terrorism is something tricky when you are looking at a Just War framework, and here's why this isn't a Just War..."Quote"Let us imagine that significant numbers of Catholics in the military—not everyone, perhaps, even just 10 percent—agreed with the pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that this particular war is unjustifiable, and decided to sit it out. Let us imagine that significant numbers of Catholic civilians—again, not necessarily everyone—did not agree that the president's judgment was final, and found ways to protest and refuse to support the war effort. "Isn't this happening? At least on the civilian side? I know it is within our parish, at least on some level. I mean, I don't know of a single person who has been killed or fired or even really suffered much for peacefully protesting the war. As for a soldier...if his/her conviction is so strong in support of "sitting out" the war, wouldn't it be ok to quietly and peacefully surrender to the MPs and say, "hey, i'm not fighting this war." They might find themselves discharged, maybe even have to serve some time in military prison, but if it were a matter of my immortal soul, I'd do my time, you know? None of them were DRAFTED. They are there on their own accord. The purpose for being in the military is pretty well defined. Its not like they showed up for a church bake sale and ended up in Basic Training...so the responsiblity for taking an action to "sit out" is ultimately theirs, and I think it would be dangerous to assume that those who don't take such an action are enslaved to some idolatry...Quote"Would we be witnessing the church overstepping the boundaries of its authority, or the dangerous mixing of politics and religion? No. We would be witnessing Catholics recovering their primary loyalty to Christ from the idolatry of the nation-state. And we would be witnessing, for once, the just-war theory being used to limit violence rather than justify it."Two problems here: 1) this next-to-last line again *assumes* the "idolatry" of those who support the use of force in this situation. It is still POSSIBLE to have a "primary loyalty to Christ" and also support a military war, isn't it? 2) the last line could be argued that this war was the ultimate use of the just war theory to limit violence, especially violence against innocent civilian women, children, and elderly (both inside Iraq, and in free countries throughout the world) as perpetrated by a dictatorial regime and terrorists.Regards,Eric WyattMuncie, IN

06.06.04   spy1 says:
Excellent article! Some conservative Catholics do the same kind of equivocating that drives them nuts (and rightly so) when liberals do it. While I personally have been offended by some of the liberal statements about this war (and about this president), I am equally offended by conservatives falling into lock-step behind violence. I don't know a thing about this author, but this is a well-balanced article. Thank you!

06.03.04   Godspy says:
When the Pope and the bishops worldwide unite virtually unanimously in clear and repeated opposition to a war, the Catholic conscience should treat this matter with utmost seriousness.

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