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Go ask your Mother!
Ask your Mother is an opportunity to have your questions about the Church's stance on certain topics or situations answered. Here, your Mother is in reference to the Catholic Church... we Catholics call the Church our mother- as she educates us, guides us and loving asks of us certain things that might be difficult to fulfill but She walks with us each step of the way.
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QUESTION: How can there be a “Just War” doctrine? Isn’t the Church pacifist?
The question of the Church’s position on war and whether the Church is pacifist came up recently in class. The time was too short to offer a detailed explanation of the Church’s stance so here is a thorough response:
The Catholic teaching on war begins with her understanding of legitimate defense. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains it better than I ever will so here is what the Church says about legitimate defense, which is a foundational principle that helps understand what she will later say about war:
CCC 2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one's own life; and the killing of the aggressor.... the one is intended, the other is not."
2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one's own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.... Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one's own life than of another's.
2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge.
The Church takes this position and then expands it to situations of nations and peoples and how it views war. I point you towards the CCC, paragraphs #2302-2317 (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P81.HTM), for the full text related to the Church’s stance on peace and avoiding war. The Church always works towards the non-violent response to conflict, but at the same time it recognizes that military force may be used against an aggressor in certain situations. The circumstances in which force could be justified make up the Just War doctrine, which is described in the Catechism quotation below:
2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.
However, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.”
2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.
Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.
Here is a link to a brief article that explains the recent Popes’ comments towards the Iraqi war, to give you an example of how the Church’s doctrine is applied to real life (http://catholicism.about.com/od/thechurchintheworld/f/popes_on_iraq.htm). As you will see, the Popes are not in favor of the Iraqi war, but it’s not because the Church is against war at all times. Pope John Paul II, in his January 2003 address referenced in the article, said, “As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions.” So war is an option, but it should be the last one. Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict), in the 30 Days interview mentioned in the above link, explains JP II’s application of the just war doctrine to the Iraq war. Here is what he said: Your Eminence, a question about current events, in some way connected to the Catechism. Does the coalition war on the Iraq come within the canons of the “just war”? RATZINGER: The Pope has very clearly expressed his thoughts, not only as the thoughts of an individual, but as the thoughts of a man of conscience occupying the highest functions in the Catholic Church. Of course, he has not imposed this position as a doctrine of the Church, but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by the faith. This judgment of the Holy Father is convincing from a rational point of view also: reasons sufficient for unleashing a war against Iraq did not exist. First of all it was clear from the very beginning that proportion between the possible positive consequences and the sure negative effect of the conflict was not guaranteed. On the contrary, it seems clear that the negative consequences will be greater than anything positive that might be obtained. Without considering then that we must begin asking ourselves whether as things stand, with new weapons that cause destruction that goes well beyond the groups involved in the fight, it is still licit to allow that a “just war” might exist.
To conclude, while the Church is not in favor of war, it does allow for the use of force when the criteria of the just war doctrine are met, which are based in an understanding of the legitimate defense of people under a government’s responsibility.
In PDF form: