Are we really serious when we ask God to deliver us from war? The
Catechism and the challenge of Pope John Paul II
William L. Portier
(Perhaps our present disjunction between just-war and pacifist
approaches to this issue reflects uncritically the sort of
extrinsicist theology of nature and grace characteristic of the
The (1994) treats the fifth
commandment in three sections. The third deals with safeguarding
peace and avoiding war. This essay will propose a reading of
Section III in light of recent papal pronouncements on the Gulf
War and the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. After a
brief summary of the Catechism's treatment of the fifth
commandment, the body of the essay will treat recent papal
statements. Following this review, the essay will conclude by
considering how what might be called the "evangelical realism" of
these statements helps to flesh out and enrich the necessarily
general and schematic form of the Catechism's teaching.
I. The Catechism on the fifth commandment
(1) " (Ex 20:13; cf. Dt 5:17). The
Catechism begins its three-part, thirteen-page discussion of the
fifth commandment by citing consecutively from the Decalogue and
the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:21-22). The fifth commandment is
treated under the headings of "Respect for Human Life," "Respect
for the Dignity of Persons," and "Safeguarding Peace." The third
section on "Safeguarding Peace" will occupy our attention in this
The first section on "Respect for Human Life" (CCC, nn. 2259-83)
notes the Old Testament specification on the fifth commandment's
prohibition against killing, "Do not slay the innocent and the
righteous (Ex 23:7)." This is followed by an appeal to the
teaching and even the example of Jesus who "did not defend himself
and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath (Mt 26:52)."
The treatment of war in the third section (CCC, nn. 2307-17) is
based in part on the first section's emphasis on the right of
self-defense. Following St. Thomas on the possible "double effect"
of self-defense, the Catechism denies that "the legitimate defense
of persons and societies" is "an exception to the prohibition
against murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional
killing" (CCC, n. 2263).
Legitimate defense can be a "grave duty" (CCC, n. 2265). The death
penalty is cited as a possible example of "rendering the aggressor
unable to inflict harm." The right of those holding authority "to
repel by armed force aggressors against the community in their
charge" is affirmed "for analogous reasons." This analogy between
the reasons justifying capital punishment and those justifying the
use of military force against aggressors is based on a common
appeal to the legitimacy of self defense by lawful governments.
Section III of the Catechism on the fifth commandment takes its
"Safeguarding Peace/Avoiding War" structure from Chapter V of
. It follows very closely the organization of
paragraphs 78-81 of that document. Section III refers eight times
to and concludes with a powerful quote from n.
Section III's most noteworthy component is n. 2309. It sets out
the "strict conditions" for what is called, in italics,
"" Paragraph 2309 is
noteworthy in two respects. In view of Section III's close
dependence on , n. 2309 is a significant and
substantive addition. merely affirms the right
of governments to self-defense (an affirmation the Catechism
repeats in n. 2308) without enumerating the conditions. This
addition might simply serve the Catechism's instructional purpose
in the interests of completeness. Though it emphasizes the rigor
with which the conditions must be applied, it could also signal a
certain practical tension between Section I's emphasis on the
legitimacy of self-defense and the concern of
Chapter V for the elimination of war.
A second noteworthy feature of n. 2309 is that its "strict
conditions" are not explained with reference to "just war," as one
might expect. In fact, the Catechism never uses the word for
the armed defense whose legitimacy it recognizes. The word
is reserved for that from which the Catechism teaches us to pray
for deliverance. The phrase does appear once in the
text at the end of n. 2309. But it is set off in quotation marks
in small print and seems to be part of a supplementary
observation.3 Recent papal statements suggest that this usage of
the word war may be significant.
(2) . In his encyclical
(March 1995), Pope John Paul II clarified and
nuanced the Catechism's teaching on the death penalty. His
discussion of the death penalty presumes "a true right to self
defense."2 But "in the context of a system of penal justice ever
more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's
plan for man and society," he explains the death penalty in a way
that would limit its use more strictly than the Catechism appears
to. The death penalty ought not be resorted to "except in cases of
absolute necessity: in other words when it would not be possible
otherwise to defend society." Such cases, he goes on to note, have
been rendered "very rare, if not practically non-existent" (,
Having said this, the pope reaffirms a principle, set forth in the
Catechism (n. 2267), but which its teaching on the death penalty
appears to have applied too loosely. It emphasizes the respect
owed even to the lives of "criminals and unjust aggressors."
If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an
aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons,
public authority must limit itself to such means, because they
better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good
and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
(EV, n. 56)
Clearly in control of this discussion are considerations based on
a theologically grounded sense of human dignity and an appeal to
the "concrete conditions of the common good."3 Interestingly,
there is no mention of calculations about-proportionate response
At a 30 March 1995 news conference, marking the encyclical's
publication, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger noted that the pope's
"reservations about the death penalty are even stronger than those
already present in the Catechism and are a real development." He
went on to say that the pope's "important doctrinal progress" on
the death penalty in would necessitate a
reformulation of what is written on it in the Catechism.4
this point, the question arises that will occupy the rest of this
essay. Do recent papal pronouncements give any cause for
considering the possibility of a development in the area of
"legitimate defense by military force" comparable to the recent
development in the area of the death penalty? Given the "analogous
reasons" justifying both in legitimate self-defense, the principle
set forth in n. 2267 and reaffirmed by the pope in would seem to apply analogously to both cases. By his
recent, more stringent application to the death penalty of the
Catechism's principle on the need-for the sake of human dignity
and the common good-to minimize bloodshed, the pope gives us cause
to wonder whether the same principle requires us to be more
concerned with minimizing bloodshed in the analogous case of
"legitimate defense by military force."
As noted above, the Catechism, with its analogy between the
reasons justifying both capital punishment and defensive resort to
arms, gives some cause for taking this question seriously. Despite
its primary focus on abortion and euthanasia,
links opposition to the death penalty and war in a way that also
encourages pursuit of this line of questioning. At the end of
Chapter I, after having treated the "deepest roots of the struggle
between the 'culture of life' and the 'culture of death"' (,
n. 21), the pope is concerned to avoid "sterile discouragement" by
drawing attention to "positive signs" in our present situation.
Among these hopeful signs that foreshadow the ultimate victory of
life over death is a growing opposition to war and capital
Among the signs of hope we should also count the spread, at many
levels of public opinion, of as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between
peoples, and increasingly oriented to finding effective but "non-
violent" means to counter the armed aggressor. In the same
perspective there is evidence of a , even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of
"legitimate defense" on the part of society. Modern society in
fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering
criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to
reform. (, n. 27, italics in original)
Indeed, these views, here ascribed to public opinion, might be
read as apt statements of the pope's own views on these questions.
It remains briefly to survey his recent pronouncements on specific
international situations in which he sought to offer moral
guidance for practical judgments on how to safeguard peace and
avoid war. The following exposition will focus primarily on the
1991 encyclical and various statements on the
Gulf War and the more recent conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
II. Recent papal pronouncements: From just war to humanitarian
(1) Centesimus Annus, . Before and during the 1991 Gulf
War, much to the consternation of policy makers and moral
theologians on both the right and left in the U.S., Pope John Paul
II was resolute in his refusal to be drawn into the widespread
discussion of the just cause and conduct of what he referred to as
the "so-called 'Gulf War."'5 Amid debate about whether the U.N.
resort to arms in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait met the
conditions for a just war, the pope, a near-solitary voice on the
international scene, focused instead on the futility of such
calculations in the face of modern weapons and the human suffering
In widely publicized letters to Presidents Bush and Saddam Hussein
on the eve of the war, the pope pleaded with them to recognize the
futility of a recourse to war. It cannot be expected to solve
international problems and can only be expected to create more
suffering and injustice, the occasions for more war.6 Between 2
August 1990 and 4 March 1991, the pope spoke publicly on the
Middle East crisis fifty-six times. Throughout the course of the
war, President Bush continued to use just-war language to give
moral legitimacy to both the cause and the conduct of the war.7
After the war began, U.S. media virtually ignored the pope's
continuing pleas for peace. Their tone flew in the face of both
prevailing American support for the war and the dispassionate
style of just-war discussions of just cause and proportionate
One of the pope's more dramatic pleas for peace came in the form
of a prayer alluding to Pope Paul VI's speech at the U.N. in 1966.
"Never again war," he prayed, "adventure without return, spiral of
struggle and violence, never this war in the Persian Gulf . . .
threat to your creatures in the sky, on earth and in the sea....
No war ever again." Commentators in the countries whose troops
composed the U.N. forces were deeply uncomfortable with such
dissident and unconventional language. One British correspondent
and Vatican watcher suggested with no little exasperation that we
interpret the designation of war as an "adventure without return"
as "a haiku or prose poem."8 Most clung, with a bit of nervous
relief perhaps, to one of the pope's most widely-reported remarks,
made to youth on 17 February 1991 at St. Dorothy's Church in Rome.
"We are not pacifists," he said, "we do not want peace at any
price."9 of London had earlier editorialized that one
of the effects of the pope's strong language against the war might
be "to shift Christian thought about war further towards
Marking the one hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's ground-
breaking encyclical on the laboring classes, , Pope
John Paul II published on 1 May 1991. It was
his ninth encyclical and third on the social question. In the
U.S., discussion of treated it as having more
to do with "economics" than "politics" and focused on interpreting
the encyclical's openness to "free economy" (, n. 42). Against
the background of their previous disagreements over the bishops'
1986 pastoral letter on the economy, neo-conservatives and
liberals debated the degree of continuity between a "new
capitalism" (, n. 40) envisioned by the pope and capitalism as
practiced in the U.S.11
Lost and ignored in this U.S. discussion was the significant
contribution makes to questions about
safeguarding peace and avoiding war. It gives more attention to
issues of war and peace than any encyclical since (1963), revisiting the central themes of that document in
a post-cold war setting. Issued within months of "the recent
tragic war in the Persian Gulf" (, n. 52),
includes what is arguably the strongest rejection of war ever to
come from the papal magisterium.
Pope John Paul II follows here the consistent linking in
twentieth-century Catholic social teaching between international
justice and the elimination of war (see, e.g., , n. 82). In
the face of rising nationalism and emphasis on state sovereignty,
he insists that the social question as international requires
international solutions. In terms of human rights as a global
issue, the international community's most pressing need is to
"establish, as alternatives to war, effective means for the
resolution of international conflict" (CA, n. 21). Justice
requires a "true culture of peace" (CA, n. 51), and the end of war
is its precondition.
But had said as much. A key move in establishes a new center for discussing the moral use of
military force. This key move is the pope's striking refusal to
discuss international conflict in a framework that distinguishes,
as a matter of course, between "total war" and "limited war."
Following almost immediately upon a "limited war," legitimated in
part by appeals to just-war language, this encyclical knows no
distinction between "total war"-solemnly condemned in (n. 80)-and supposedly "limited wars."
The discussion of war in Chapter II links "total war" and class
warfare in the Marxist-Leninist sense. Their heinousness consists
precisely in a complete lack of ethical restraint. Both involve:
attempts to impose the absolute domination of one's own side
through the destruction of the other side's capacity to resist,
using every possible means, not excluding the use of lies, terror
tactics against citizens, and weapons of utter destruction....
(, n. 14)
The pope calls for a repudiation of the "logic" that leads to war,
"the idea that the effort to destroy the enemy, confrontation, and
war itself are factors of progress and historical advancement"
(, n. 18).12
As long as we assume that, in addition to total and unrestrained
war as denounced in this and many other Church documents, there is
limited war, war within the bounds of ethical restraint, then none
of what we find in the second chapter is very earthshaking. But
precisely what is noteworthy here is that the pope makes no such
distinction. Modern war shares the mind of total war. Not only do
contemporary weapons and global interdependence make it "very
difficult or practically impossible to limit the consequences of a
conflict" (, n. 51), but the very "logic" that leads to war
strains against such limits.
In the context of papal pronouncements on the Gulf War and other
conflicts, we can read as an attempt to
reorient moral discourse about international conflict. The
traditional right to self-defense is not abandoned, but what we
have called "war" or "just war" is pushed to the edges of the
moral conversation where it can survive only in the form of what
the Catechism calls "legitimate defense by military force" (n.
2309).13 Because of the overriding concern to minimize blood-shed
in legitimate defense (n. 2267), perhaps it is best not to think
of or talk about such legitimate defense as war or even
Neither traditional pacifists nor proponents of just-war reasoning
can clearly recognize their own assumptions in the pope's
positions. Hence the scramble of both to make sense of his
language during the Gulf War. What we find in
is more than the mere "presumption against war" that liberal
theologians and bishops have been accused of falsely attributing
to St. Thomas.14 Without appealing to just-war conditions, the
pope reasons in a general way that the cost of war in human
suffering and cause for further conflict cries out for an
alternative. As Chapter III of makes clear,
however, such reasoning is never separated from a deep evangelical
concern for the dignity and human rights of those who suffer from
To the reasoned rejection of war in Chapter II and Chapter V,
Chapter III makes explicit the appeal to the gospel and "Christ on
the Cross" that gives this reasoning its evangelical urgency. The
commandments and the beatitudes lie down together. Chapter III
recalls the collective effervescence of freedom in eastern Europe
in 1989. In the events of 1989, the pope finds witness, however
fragile, to new possibilities for alternatives to war, for a true
culture of peace. Communism collapsed and the post-war European
order fell not by means of another war, but through peaceful
protest and non-violent struggle. In Poland and other countries of
eastern Europe, free people met the logic of total war and class
struggle and overcame it.
The events of 1989 are an example of the success of willingness to
negotiate and of the Gospel spirit in the face of an adversary
determined not to be bound by moral principles. These events are a
warning to those who, in the name of political realism, wish to
banish law and morality from the political arena. Undoubtedly, the
struggle which led to the changes of 1989 called for clarity,
moderation, suffering and sacrifice. In a certain sense, it was a
struggle born of prayer, and it would have been unthinkable
without immense trust in God, the Lord of history, who carries the
human heart in his hands. It is by uniting his own suffering for
the sake of truth and freedom to the sufferings of Christ on the
Cross that man is able to accomplish the miracle of peace and is
in a position to discern the often narrow path between the
cowardice which gives in to evil and the violence which, under the
illusion of fighting evil, only makes it worse. (CA, n. 25)
Perhaps this moving allusion to the religious foundation of
Solidarity romanticizes its non-violence and overestimates the
religious inspiration of the eastern European struggle for
freedom.15 It would be difficult to say. As a statement of the
Christian spirituality of non-violence, however, it serves as an
eloquent invitation to personal and cultural transformation.
The outbreak of war among the former Yugoslavian states in 1992
dampened the hopes, raised by the revolution of 1989, for a new
European order. As in the Gulf War, European Christians fought
Muslims, Slavic Muslims this time, and Orthodox Serbs fought
Catholic Croats. Again the pope's attention focused on the
violated dignity of the ordinary people who suffer as a result of
this war which he has consistently denounced as "barbarous" and
likened to the "shipwreck of Europe."l6 In January of each year
since 1992, as he faced the prospect of another winter of
suffering in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, the pope's annual
addresses to the diplomats attached to the Vatican provided a
significant forum for his statements on the continuing war in
In response to the pleas of those he has called the "martyred
people of Bosnia," the pope has reminded the international
community of its possible duty to disarm aggressors in this war.
Nevertheless, he has consistently spoken, especially through
prayer, in tones that hold together, in an evangelical embrace,
justice and charity, the commandments and the beatitudes.
In Assisi, on 9-10 January 1993, the pope sponsored an interfaith
vigil for peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Muslims and Christians came
from all over Europe to fast and pray for peace. In his January 10
address to the Muslim delegates, the pope made explicit the
setting's silent evocation of the example of St. Francis as a
peacemaker. Preaching at Mass on the baptism of Jesus, he borrowed
from the prayer of the Church, "Break down the walls of hatred ...
Make level the paths to concord and peace." The pope told the
peace pilgrims that, as Christ was among the crowds of sinners at
the Jordan, he is among us now praying together with us for peace.
"[I]n the tormented land of the peoples and nations of the
Balkans, Christ is present among all those who suffer and are
undergoing a senseless violation of their human rights."17
In the January 9 interfaith meeting at Assisi, Jacub Selimoski, a
Muslim leader from Sarajevo, described Bosnia-Herzegovina as "a
country bathed with the blood of innocent creatures of God."
"How," he asked, "can Europe allow an entire nation, a European
nation, to disappear from its midst and how can it wash its hands
of it with tranquillity and indifference?"18
As if in response to such pleas against indifference to the human
suffering in Bosnia, the pope, in his January 16 address to
diplomats, raised the possibility of culpable indifference, on the
part of governments and the international community, to a "duty to
disarm the aggressor." Following this, in a March 25 Statement on
the Balkans, the USCC Administrative Board urged U.S. government
leaders to consider a limited use of force in Bosnia-Herzegovina
as the kind of "humanitarian intervention" spoken of earlier by
Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has
resolutely refused to acquiesce in war's inevitability.20 Part of
the basis for this refusal lies in the fact that the Church has
traditionally prayed, as in the Litany of the Saints, to be
delivered from war. In September of 1994, he had planned to visit
the besieged city of Sarajevo. The fighting's increased intensity
prevented this journey. But on 8 September 1994, the homily he was
to have preached there was broadcast to Sarajevo from Castel
Gandolfo. This homily remains the pope's most powerful evangelical
statement on the war in Bosnia. In it he weaves traditional
prayers of the Church, the Our Father and ,
into a deeply moving invocation of the power of the cross, an
eloquent prayer for peace. "'Our Father,"' he began, "I, Bishop of
Rome, the first Slav pope, kneel before you crying out: 'Deliver
us-from plague, hunger and war!'"21
III. Reading the Catechism in light of the challenge of Pope John
The petition for deliverance from war offered by the pope in his
homily for Sarajevo is taken from the Litany of the Saints. His
turning to it as to an old friend in a needy time suffuses this
ancient prayer with new life. The same petition appears in the
Catechism (n. 2327). The powerful effect of the pope's
appropriation of it suggests how his perspective might similarly
enrich our reading of the Catechism's familiar-sounding teaching
on the fifth commandment as it relates to peace and war.
After this brief review of papal pronouncements over the past five
years on safeguarding peace and avoiding war, we return to the
question posed above (I, 3): Do recent papal pronouncements give
any cause for considering the possibility of a development in the
area of "legitimate defense by military force" comparable to the
recent development in the area of the death penalty? It seems
reasonable to conclude that a development is indeed taking place
in the area of "legitimate defense by military force," and that it
is comparable to, if not as restrictive as, the recent development
in the area of the death penalty.
The pope seems clearly, in the words of Bryan Hehir, to be
tightening "the moral barriers against the use of force."22 If he
has not abandoned "just-war" theory (as the editorial of
6 July 1991 urged), he has made the evaluation of its conditions
sufficiently rigorous to move the use of military force close to
the periphery of moral discussion. The consternation of both
pacifists and proponents of just-war theory at the pope's recent
statements might be a sign that he has begun to think with the
"entirely new mind" urged in (n. 80). Indeed, we
could interpret recent papal pronouncements on international
conflict as an ongoing attempt to carry forward the project
outlined in Chapter V of . While leaving the door
open a crack for the serious possibility of "humanitarian
intervention," the pope seems possessed at the same time of a
profound evangelical skepticism about using military force as a
means of securing justice. This holy skepticism is evident in both
his opposition to the Gulf War and his extreme reluctance to urge
international military intervention in Bosnia.
On the one hand, because of his insistence on the legitimacy of
self-defense, the pope cannot be called a pacifist. (It might be
difficult to construe every "legitimate defense by military force"
as the kind of "police" action some pacifists would support.) On
the other hand, he has drawn the restrictions on the use of
military force with sufficient rigor that proponents of just-war
theory, if they wish to take him seriously, must reexamine their
assumptions and reorient their discussion about war. From the 1983
peace pastoral to the Gulf War and now Bosnia, debates among
Catholics in the U.S. on war and peace issues have been often
frustrated at an impasse between just war and pacifism. By his
attempt to reason more evangelically about war, Pope John Paul II
is challenging us to move beyond that impasse.
How might we read Section III of the Catechism on the fifth
commandment in the light of this challenge? A first step would be
to recognize the common context for both pope and Catechism in
Chapter V of . All three share the tension
between work and prayer for the elimination of war and the
possible need for self-defense in the face of the dangers of war.
In his discussion of the right to self-defense, the pope notes
that "the right to protect one's own life and the duty not to harm
someone else's life are difficult to reconcile in practice" (EV,
n. 55). Attention to recent papal statements might help us to
navigate this tension as we find it in the Catechism. Their
possible enrichment of the Catechism's teaching on legitimate
defense by military force will be treated under three headings.
(1) . Pope John Paul II
sets his moral reflections within a rich theology of nature and
grace. Such a theological perspective helps avoid misreadings of
the Catechism's necessarily schematic juxtapositions of the
beatitudes and the commandments in its treatment of "Life in
Christ." When the section on the fifth commandment begins with
consecutive citations from the Decalogue and the Sermon on the
Mount, for example, they cannot be related extrinsically as in the
modern tendency to view charity as a kind of voluntary supplement
to justice rather than its integral perfection.
The pope's theological perspective is unified in a way that is
closed to the Catechism as a compendium of Church teaching. The
Catechism's treatment of the commandments, for example, begins
with Jesus' encounter with the rich young man (Mt 19). The pope's
extended meditation on this gospel story in ,
however, offers a richer and more integral account of the
relationship between the commandments and Jesus' counsel to
perfection for the rich young man.
Rather than "a minimum limit not to be gone beyond," the pope
explains the commandments "as a path involving a moral and
spiritual journey [later a "fragile journey" (n. 18)] toward
perfection at the heart of which is love" (, n. 15). "Both the
commandments and Jesus' invitation to the rich young man stand at
the service of a single and indivisible charity, which
spontaneously tends toward that perfection whose measure is God
alone . . . " (, n. 18). Jesus, "the only Gospel" (, n.
80), becomes "a living and personal law who invites people to
follow him" (, n. 15). In such a relentlessly christological
perspective, the fifth commandment becomes "a call to an attentive
love which protects and promotes the life of one's neighbor"
(ibid.). This christological orientation avoids a modern rights-
oriented insistence on the legitimacy of self-defense and shifts
emphasis to the kind of concern to minimize bloodshed we find in
n. 2267 of the Catechism and reaffirmed in n.
56. This shift in emphasis is reflected in the strictures on the
death penalty in and also, as this essay
argues, in recent papal statements on international conflict.
Indeed, one might read these statements as the pope's attempt to
restore the "single and indivisible charity" of n. 18 to its rightful place in our reasoning about the
use of military force. It could be argued that our present
disjunction between just-war and pacifist approaches to this issue
reflects uncritically the sort of extrinsicist theology of nature
and grace characteristic of the modern period.23
(2) . The pope's integral approach to the
relationship between the commandments and the beatitudes results
in a corresponding "evangelical realism" often lacking in
dispassionate discussions of how to apply just-war conditions in
specific situations, such as the Persian Gulf or Bosnia-
Herzegovina. This "evangelical realism" challenges us to mean it
truly when we pray to be delivered from war, or when we say that
Jesus is suffering among the people in Bosnia or that, because he
has come into the world, war is not inevitable.
Such evangelical urgency has the power to reorient our experience
of practical difficulties in reconciling Jesus' call to love of
neighbor and the legitimate needs of self-defense. It means that
certain evangelical aspects of the Catechism's treatment of
safeguarding peace and avoiding war have to move closer to the
center of debates about "legitimate defense by military force."
These include: (a) the section on peace (nn. 2304-6), taken
largely from n. 78 and emphasizing that Christ
is our peace through the cross; (b) the incorporation of the
Church's traditional prayer for deliverance from war (nn. 230727);
(c) the need, given "the gravity of the physical and moral risks
of recourse to violence" (n. 2306) and the "power of modern means
of destruction" (n. 2309), for "rigorous consideration" before
resorting to arms. If the pope has not said, "Just War No More!,"
he has come very close.
(3) . "This is the voice of one who has
no interests nor political power, nor, even less, military force."
Thus the pope described his perspective to the U.N. General
Assembly in 1982.24 Most of us approach the Catechism on peace and
war as citizens with much narrower national perspectives. Our
governments tend to see military force as a potential policy
instrument to be used in the national interest. The pope's
international perspective helps to keep us honest by making it
difficult to interpret what the Catechism teaches about peace and
war in ways that are shaped primarily by our relative positions in
a particular political culture. The pope's consistent and holy
skepticism about achieving justice and peace through military
force must give pause to anyone inclined to read Section III's
evangelical aspects as pious additions to the true realism of
The pope's holy skepticism about war will be as surprising to many
Americans as his position on the death penalty. It is as deeply
challenging to our culture as his opposition to abortion and
euthanasia. In order to take the challenge of his evangelical
realism seriously, we have to want to pray with the Church and
truly mean it: "From disease, famine and war, O Lord, deliver
*This article is dedicated to the memory of Rev. James M. Forker.
Greatly would it have profited from the sort of conversation with
him (less seemingly one-sided than now) I pray one day to resume
in the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, may God be good to him and
all of us!
1 At the end of n. 2309, this sentence appears in small print:
"These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called
the 'just-war' doctrine." The Catechism's Prologue explains that
such small print is used to indicate "observations of an
historical or apologetic nature, or supplementary doctrinal
explanations" (n. 20).
2 Pope John Paul II, (=), n. 55. Compare
Catechism, nn. 2263-67.
3 See for a related reference to the "concrete
conditions of the common good": "The common good of men is in its
basic sense determined by the eternal law. Still the concrete
demands of this common good are constantly changing as time goes
on. Hence peace is never attained once and for all, but must be
built up ceaselessly" (GS, n. 78).
4 (30 March 1995). Rather than as a
"development" of a doctrine in any strict sense, perhaps it would
be best to interpret the pope's recent strictures on the death
penalty as reflecting practical judgments about the "concrete
conditions of the common good" mentioned in n. 2267.
5 In his 11 January 1992 address to diplomats attached to the
Vatican, the pope said: "As you recall, the so-called 'Gulf War'
broke out only a few days after our meeting on 12 January .
Like every war, it left behind a sinister wake of dead and
wounded, of devastation, hostility and still unresolved problems.
The consequences of the conflict cannot be forgotten; even today
the people of Iraq continue to suffer terribly. The Holy See has
recalled, as you know, the ethical imperatives which must prevail
in all circumstances: the sacredness of the human person, of
whatever side; the force of law, the importance of dialogue and
negotiation; respect for international agreements. These are the
only 'weapons' which do honor to humanity, according to God's
plan!" (, English edition [15 January 1992]:
6 <0rigins> (24 January 1991): 527-31.
7 The most dramatic example of this came in the president's
appearance before the annual convention of the National Religious
Broadcasters on 28 January 1991. See ,
ed. James Turner Johnson and George Weigel (Washington: Ethics and
Public Policy Center, 1991), 141 46, and the reply that follows by
Jim Wallis, Editor of , 147-51.
8 Peter Hebblethwaite, "Pope expands Gulf War debate beyond 'just
war' jousting," (31 January 1992):
10-11. Taking off from the address to the diplomats mentioned in
note 5 above, Hebblethwaite emphasized that the pope's public
posture during the Gulf War was designed to further long-range
Vatican policy. Though this emphasis tends to obscure the
religious dimension of the pope's posture, Hebblethwaite
recognized that something new was going on here and tried
seriously to make sense of it. For an earlier attempt, compare his
"How to read the Pope," in (23 February 1991),
9 <0rigins> (21 February 1991): 625.
10 "The Pope and the war," in (2 February 1991): 123.
11 For the early discussion, see Richard John Neuhaus, "The Pope
Affirms the 'New Capitalism,"' (2 May 1991):
1; George Weigel, "The New, New Things: Pope John Paul II on Human
Freedom," 5 (May-June, 1991): 33-40; Pat
Windsor' "Neoconservatives capitalize on papal encyclical,"
(17 May 1991): 3; Charles K. Wilber,
"Argument that pope 'baptized' capitalism holds no water,"
(17 June 1991): 8, 10.
12 On "total war" and the logic of war, compare , n. 80.
13 Commenting on , J. Bryan Hehir, chief
architect of the U.S. Bishops' 1983 peace pastoral, concluded that
"one surely comes away from the Gulf debate and this encyclical
with a sense that the moral barriers against the use of force are
now drawn more tightly by this pope. Where he is moving on this
question is not yet clear but surely bears careful watching"
( [14 June 1991]: 394). A controversial editorial in
, argued that, in the wake of the Gulf War,
signalled a papal repudiation of "just-war"
theory. Denying that "just-war" theory has ever been "officially"
sanctioned by the Church's magisterium, the editorial consistently
appeals to the example of the Gulf War to show that, because of
the logic of modern warfare, "just-war" conditions are
unattainable (452-53). Along with Pope Benedict XV's encyclical
(1920), and ,
it ranks as one of four "important documents"
in which the Church has formally condemned war (454). To its
repudiation of "just war," the editorial recognizes "the single
exception of a war of pure defense against an aggression actually
taking place" (453). See "Conscienza Crishana e Guerra Moderna,"
142 (6 July 1991): 3-16. For an English
translation, see "Modern War and Christian Conscience,"
(19 December 1991): 450-55. Page numbers above are to this
translation. For commentary, see John Langan, S.J., "The Just-War
Theory After the Gulf War," (March, 1992):
95-110, esp. 100-103; William H. Shannon, "Christian Conscience
and Modern Warfare," (15 February 1992): 108-12; Patrick
Jordan, "'Civilta' Has Spoken but It's Not the Last Word on War,"
(31 January 1992): 5.
14 See Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, "A Note on the Relation of
Pacifism and Just-War Theory: Is There a Thomistic Convergence?,"
59 (April, 1995): 247-59.
15 For an argument for the Church's role in the revolution of
1989, see George Weigel, (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1992).
16 See his 9 January 1995 address to Vatican diplomats in
(19 January 1995): 520-22, at 520.
17 <0rigins> (21 January 1993): 545.
19 <0rigins> (8 April 1993): 735. On the concept of "humanitarian
intervention," see Kenneth R. Himes, "Just War, Pacifism and
Humanitarian Intervention," (14 August 1993): 10-15, 28-
20 See Pope John Paul II, "Negotiation, the Only Realistic
Solution to the Continuing Threat of War," to the U.N. General
Assembly on 11 June 1982 (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1982), 5-
6, reprint from . Compare the 1994 address
to diplomats in Origins (3 February 1994): 582. For a survey of
the pope's approach to war, see Brian M. Kane, "Persons and
Princes (or Presidents): The Relationship Between Lethal Force and
the Common Good According to Pope John Paul II," a paper presented
at the 1995 Annual Meeting of the College Theology Society. I am
grateful to Professor Kane (Allentown College) for providing me
with a copy of his paper.
21 (22 September 1994): 264 65, at 264.
22 See note 13 above.
23 On the loss of charity in modern just-war reasoning, see
Timothy N. Renick, "Charity Lost: The Secularization of the
Principle of Double Effect in the Just-War Tradition," 58 (July 1994): 441-62.
24 "Negotiation, the Only Realistic Solution," 4.
This article was taken from the Spring 1996 issue of "Communio:
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