Saturday, April 19, 2008
Nate Wildermuth on Benedict XVI, pacifism and "bending my stiff neck"
"Bending my Stiff Neck" - Vox Nova's Nate Wildermuth -- an 'absolute pacifist' (to the point of condemning even justifiable defensive force, and with whom I have had scores of debates) -- wrestles with the words of the Holy Father:
Over the past three days, I've had my 1000% daily recommended dose of 'Pope': waving "hi" and "bye" at the National Shrine, attending the mass at Nationals Stadium, reading his flurry of speeches/addresses/homilies over and over again, and most importantly - praying that the Holy Spirit will open my heart to learning from our Church and its leader. But I wasn't quite prepared for the opening salvo of our Holy Spirit, coming in the Pope's words at the White House:
Praise to Benedict XVI for teaching by the force of his words and presence what positively reams of blogging and combox debating could not. And to Nate as well for his thoughtful post (and courage in publishing it).
I can relate (to some extent), Nate -- my father's side coming from a Mennonite background and being politically-left / pacifist, I had to likewise reconcile long-held assumptions.
Just as Catholic tradition makes a distinction between 'killing' and 'homicide', it seems to me that rather than condemning any and all use of armed force as "violence" [= evil], the Catholic tradition rather evaluates the use of force, judging its worth according to moral criteria.
The former has often been dubbed the "‘dirty hands' tradition" (whereby to pick up a gun, even defensively, is to unavoidably involve one's self in sin), the latter the "just war tradition" of moral-reasoning and a moral evaluation of armed force. (My father examined this in an essay "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning" back in 2002).
None of this discounts the witness of pacifists -- who by their actions and adherence to nonviolence anticipate and manifest in this reality a time where the lion will truly "lay down with the lamb", where all swords will be "beaten into plowshares."
Probably no movie illustrates this ongoing debate between the two traditions than one of my favorite movies, Robert Bolt and Roland Joffé’s 1986 film The Mission.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
218 Jesuits will gather in Rome this week to convene the 35th General Congregation, where they will elect a successor to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach ( Jesuits to vote for 'Black Pope', by Malcom Moore. The Telegraph 1/8/08).
In a column for the National Catholic Reporter, Father John Dear expresses mixed feelings about the Jesuits and the future of the religious order:
NCR asked me to reflect on this Jesuit gathering, but I have such mixed feelings about the Jesuits (not to mention the church), that I can only beg prayers for my order. We're a complicated bunch. This past spring, the National Jesuit News, a U.S. newspaper reporting on the Society of Jesus, featured a glowing profile of a Jesuit priest ("Army Chaplain Sees Job as Forming People of Peace," April, 2007) who served as a chaplain in, of all places, Abu Graib, Iraq -- not to minister to the tortured, but to the torturers. Happily, he has left Iraq. Alas, he now teaches the morality of war at West Point (where, incidentally, the police have banned me for life.)Here is an excerpt from the article that infuriated Father Dear so (Army chaplain sees job as forming ‘people of peace’, by Peter Feuerherd. Long Island Catholic Vol. 45, No. 52. March 21, 2007):
In Baghdad there were few Catholic priests, so Father [Timothy] Valentine was often on call, sent to various locations around the city. One such place was Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison that was a torture chamber for political prisoners under Saddam Hussein and was also the site of shameful abuses by some American soldiers during the early part of the war.
Monday, August 20, 2007
St. Blog's Parish Just War Debate #10293382799
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
63rd Anniversary of D-Day
Today marks the anniversary of D-Day -- the beginning of the Battle of Normandy and the Allied liberation of Europe from the Nazis.
D-Day - as remembered by LTC John G. Burkhalter, former Miami minister and chaplain with the "Fighting First" division in France:
On one occasion we were near some farm houses and some large shells began to fall, so several of us near a stone barn dashed into it to get out of the way of shrapnel. Just inside was a mother hen covering her little chicks. When we hurried in she became frightened and fluffing her feathers rose up to protect her young. I looked at her and silently said, "No, mother hen, we are not trying to hurt you and your little family, we are trying to hurt each other."
"We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history. . . .
Cardinal Ratzinger on the 60th anniversary of D-Day Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
On the 6th of June, 1944, when the landing of the allied troops in German-occupied France commenced, a signal of hope was given to people throughout the world, and also to many in Germany itself, of imminent peace and freedom in Europe. What had happened? A criminal and his party faithful had succeeded in usurping the power of the German state. In consequence of such party rule, law and injustice became intertwined, and often indistinguishable. . . . And so it was that the whole world had to intervene to force open this ring of crime, so that freedom, law and justice might be restored.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Ratzinger: "No Such Thing as Just War"?
[Morning's Minion]: First, I'm sorry you are forced into this tedious battle yet again, but am a bit surprised that a Catholic would take such a cavalier approach to the gospel of life. What if somebody told you they were sick of prattling on about abortion, as it's so yesterday?I was referring to the presentation of the 'gospel of life' as a wholesale condemnation of the use of force, in such manner as to equate force with "violence", and thereby a failure to reflect the whole of Church teaching on the matter.
I also confess to also writing in exasperation at the time as a certain somebody in a combox decided to play the 'Ratzinger card' in conversation with me earlier that afternoon ;-)
[Morning's Minion]: As someone who calls his website the "Ratzinger fan club", I wonder why you don't give due regard to his views on the Iraq war (and modern war in general)? Let me refresh your memory . . .As I mentioned, I have blogged on this topic off and on for the past five years, indeed, even setting up an entire website devoted to the just war debatein the interest of offering a fair presentation of all sides and resources (including that of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger). In light of which, your snide remark (what I took to be a patronizing jab) did set me off a bit.
The bulk of yesterday's post was blogged in response to Nate Wildermuth (who seems to commit the fallacy of reducing all force to "violence" and condemning it as such -- to which Michael Denton has offered a respectful critique). However, as I sniped at Katerina and Morning Minion in Vox Nova's combox, and confined my mention of the latter's post to a particular speculation from Ratzinger, apologies are certainly in order if I led readers to believe MM disregards the just war tradition altogether. I will try to let my temper cool before commenting and strive toward an accurate presentation of your position in the future..
[Morning's Minion]: I take issue with the analysis of Novak and Weigel, because I think they are only giving lip service to the just war principles. For God's sake, they both still defend the war. Remember when Weigel talked about the "charism of political discernment". Please. These voices are simply not credible.As for Weigel's "charism of political discernment" remark, given its ambiguity I think Rowan William's dressing down in the subsequent exchange in First Things was merited (War & Statecraft: An Exchange First Things March 2004). Weigel later clarified himself:
I gladly accept Dr. Williams’ proposal that “virtue” (with specific reference to the virtue of prudence) is the apt word for getting at the distinctive habitus to be desired in public authorities, while assuring him that, in using “charism,” I was not suggesting that the presidential oath of office (or its British parliamentary equivalent) involves an infusion of any particular gift of the Holy Spirit. And we are quite agreed that public authorities ought to consult widely in developing their own moral clarity in this time of war. It is certainly true that those outside the halls of power can sometimes see things that those inside have difficulty discerning.You're free to refute Weigel, Novak or Neuhaus' arguments for the war -- but asserting your doubts as to their credibility isn't sufficient.
Also, in your long list, why don't you refer to the work of Grisez, Finnis, and Boyle on the illegitimacy of the nuclear deterrant? These are top class moralists unlike (ahem!) some of the others on the list...I think the question of nuclear war is a separate discussion altogether; one that I am not proficient or well-read on although a few sources have been cited in the combox (I was suprised that Ignatius Press had published a book on this subject entitled A Fighting Chance: The Moral Use of Nuclear Weapons -- sounds like an invigorating and intellectually-provocative read, yes?).
As I've said, the focus of yesterday's post was chiefly on the legitimate use of force in general and whether force is irreducable to violence (which is to say morally-reprehensible) in Catholic tradition. I do not think that is the case, and I'm pleased to know that neither do you.
The Destructiveness of "Modern Warfare"
Inasmuch as Ratzinger makes the judgement 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" -- not a few on the left have cited this particular phrase as if it were gospel truth and a conclusive judgement on the matter, declaring that John Paul II's "No to War!" can only be interpreted as an absolute prohibition on the use of force by the Church). I would remind them that this remains in itself a prudential judgement and open to critique.
In "Just War, As It Was and Is" (First Things January 2005), James Turner Johnson weighed in on this particular question:
. . . The sort of war envisioned has as its models the carnage of the trenches in World War I, the bombing of cities in World War II, and the expectation of global catastrophe that would result from a superpower nuclear war. This conception of war also has as its villains the states who engage in it, so that states, instead of being potential sources of human good, are recast as the agents of massive evil. The influence of this understanding of war can be easily identified in recent debates over particular uses of force. But as I have noted, the actual face of recent warfare differs markedly from this, as it involves civil wars, uses of force by non-state actors, and massive harm to the innocent not from the use of horrific weapons but because they are made the direct targets of weapons ranging from knives to automatic rifles to suicide bombs. The actual villains here are not states as such but regional warlords, rulers who oppress their people to maintain or expand their power, and individuals and groups who use religious or ethnic difference as a justification for oppression, torture, and genocide. This is, as I suggested earlier, the real “World War III,” not a repeated and more horrible update of the London Blitz or the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima. Those who claim that “modern war” is inherently unjust seem to me to have missed all this.In short, the jury's still out on the destructiveness of "modern war" as opposed to those of decades past, and a good case can be made for the contrary. (Another post which dealt with this issue is Just War? June 17, 2005).
Before I move on, you were certainly correct to note "it's not just the destructive power of the weapons, it's also the tendency for "disproportionate evils" in the form of destabilization, terrorism, and hatred to emerge-- ever more potent in a globalized world" -- in fact, Michael R. Gordon & Bernard E. Trainor's Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq makes a good case that "the Bush team's misjudgments made the current situation in Iraq far worse than it need have been." The planners of the Iraq war, while managing to pull off a quick and relatively easy overthrow of Saddam Hussein with minimum casualties, did a poor and incredibly half-assed job of providing sufficient resources and troops to effectively counter the destabilizing effects wrought by said removal.
James Turner Johnson offers a similar criticism of the Bush administration in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future; George Weigel does likewise in Just War and Iraq Wars (April 2007).
Ratzinger: No such thing as "Just War"?
I would likewise maintain that this speculation, like any other statement by the Pope, should be weighed in connection with everything else he has said on the topic. (It was for this reason I criticized Robert Miller of First Things and Mark Shea for blowing the Pope's exclamation that "war is no good to anyone" out of proportion (War "no good to anyone" - The words of a Pacifist Pope? August 19, 2006).
In a November 2001 interview with Polish radio, Cardinal Ratzinger had the opportunity to elaborate more fully on the question "Is there any such thing as a 'just war'?":
Cardinal Ratzinger: This is a major issue of concern. In the preparation of the Catechism, there were two problems: the death penalty and just war theory were the most debated. The debate has taken on new urgency given the response of the Americans. Or, another example: Poland, which defended itself against Hitler.Suffice to say Cardinal Ratzinger comes across as squarely in the middle -- which is to say, neither a pacifist who would prohibit the use of armed force altogether, nor as one who would bless and lend clerical sanction to any effort made by the warring state. And I think that we can safely conclude from this that he would maintain the legitimacy of the just war tradition.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Just War, Pacifism and Catholic Tradition
The discussion of Michael J. Iafrate's (anti) Memorial Day post has developed into a general war of dueling opinions on such topics as nationalism and patriotism in the life of the Catholic citizen, as well as the legitimacy of war (or the used of armed force) within Catholic tradition and especially in contemporary times.
Distinction between "Violence" and a Legitimate Use of Force?
Benedict claims that Christ's victory on the cross isn't merely a cosmic realignment of spiritual scales that allows us to get into heaven while condemning us to hell on earth. No. Christ's victory defeats evil in this world. Christ's love defeats violence in this world - individually, socially, and yes - even politically.A glaring problem with the absolute condemnation of violence is the notable neglect (failure) to acknowledge a legitimate use of force. Katerina (Evangelical Catholicism) muses in the combox:
As Pope Benedict XVI says in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, violence can never be considered part of or an expression of love.prompting Michael Denton (For the Greater Glory) to ask the obvious:
It would probably also help me if you or Nate would define "violence." Are you using the defintion as "any act of aggression or force against another person" or do you have a more narrow definition?
No "Just War" Possible in Reality?
George Weigel represents an different view on war than is currently the Church's teaching. If you agree with his position, that's fine, but realize that it's contradicted by the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops. (I also think it's wrong, shaped by an America-first perspective.)Which I have to wonder is truly the case, given that Weigel's recognition that armed force can be used for good or evil has a correlation in a document by the U.S. Catholic Bishops:
Our conference's approach, as outlined in The Challenge of Peace, can be summarized in this way:(Source: The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace: A Reflection of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Tenth Anniversary of The Challenge of Peace November 17, 1993.
Interesting thing about that particular document, observed just war historian James Turner Johnson, is that while the Bishops of 1993 asserted that "when sustained attempts at nonviolent action fail to protect the innocent against fundamental injustice, legitimate political authorities are permitted as a last resort to employ limited force to rescue the innocent and establish justice", this criteria played no part in the USCCB's deliberations in 2002-2003 (Using Military Force Against the Saddam Hussein Regime: the Moral Issues Foreign Policy Research Institute. December 4, 2002).
In Is War Just?, Morning's Minion conveys his agreement with Cardinal Ratzinger's then-speculation in 2003 that "given the new weapons that make possible destruction that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a just war." (Zenit News Service May 2, 2003).
But again, this speculation was made by the same author who had a direct hand in editing the formal Catechism of the Catholic Church, which left the just war criteria intact and recognized that
“Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. " - Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 2265As I noted in Pope Benedict, Modern Weaponry and Civilian Casualties Just War? June 18, 2005, this observation, simply because it was uttered by the Prefect of the CDF, is not in itself impervious to reasoned criticism, by those far more competent on such matters than I).
Michael Denton has already responded to Nate Wildermuth's post with Onward Christian Soldiers! - A Discussion on War & Violence in Catholicism, by For the Greater Glory May 30, 2007.
I have to admit that part of me finds posting on this topic a little tedious, simply because they seem to be revisiting subjects and questions I've blogged about since, well, 2002. I'm sure it will likely bore a few of my regular readers as well ("oh, great, another 'just war' post). So I'll take the liberty of linking to a few key posts and articles which may serve as impetus for further discussion both here and on Vox Nova.
In doing so, I prefer to bracket the specific discussion of the justification for the Iraq War (an ongoing and as yet unresolved debate that has been waged since 2002) and focus rather on the fundamental question of whether there is such a thing as "a legitimate use of force" or whether all armed force is reducable to violence:
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Pope Benedict XVI - "Nothing Positive Comes from Iraq"?
Easter is over and I'm back to blogging. It was not my intention to commemorate my return to blogdom by kicking the dead horse of topics past -- the war in Iraq, capital punishment, or political matters in general. But alas, events being what they are . . .
Out of Pope Benedict XVI's 1,444 word Urbi Et Orbi Easter Message for 2007 devoted to an observation of all manner of human suffering throughout the world and the response of the Gospel, much is being made of the following sentence:
In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.Amy Welborn has a roundup of pundit's reactions to the Pope's comment (along with the usual raging debate in the combox), including an editorial in the New York Sun (The Eyes of Hope, April 9, 2007):
If the pope wants to help Iraqis and the Americans and others who are risking their lives to help them, he could underscore this progress rather than denying it. . . . in citing a list of trouble spots from Zimbabwe to Sri Lanka, [Benedict] avoided in his Easter message the error the American left makes of focusing on the carnage in Iraq to the exclusion of all the other woes.Michael Novak @ NRO's "The Corner"
"This is a very skewed report on the realities on the ground. But it might mean that the message the Pope wanted to convey is that of the American Left: "Whatever the good or the bad achievements, it is time to get out." In other words, not an accurate description, but a prescription for the near future"and Fr. Neuhaus (First Things' "Pope Benedict on Iraq" April 10, 2007):
There are many opinions on the probability of such success. I am impressed by the reporters and informed observers who have in recent weeks offered tentative but hopeful judgments about the success of the Petraeus strategy. (See, for instance, the recent interview with John Burns of the New York Times ["on Iraq and American media's coverage of it"]). To judge by a few words in his extensive Easter Sunday survey of the world’s many troubles, Pope Benedict is not so impressed. Catholics in particular pay close and respectful attention to the words of the pope, also when he is offering only his own prudential judgment with respect to this or that world problem. Admittedly, it is galling when Catholics and others who are usually blithely indifferent to church teaching seize upon a papal opinion with which they agree and, suddenly becoming hyper-infallibilists, elevate it to dogmatic status.
Over at Evangelical Catholicism, Michael uses the moment to criticize what he perceives to be fellow U.S. Catholics "intellectually wedded to American interests." Peering into the soul of the Commander in Chief, he also calls for "the conversion of President Bush and of all American Catholics who uncritically hold military violence to be more fruitful and 'practical' than the peaceful and submissive example of our Lord."
On the one hand, I think all -- be it Michael Novak or Fr. Neuhaus (or Sydney Carton or "Morning's Minion" over in Amy Welborn's combox), would wholeheartedly embrace Pope Benedict's plea with which Michael concludes his post:
Brothers and sisters in faith, who are listening to me from every part of the world! Christ is risen and he is alive among us. It is he who is the hope of a better future. As we say with Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”, may we hear again in our hearts the beautiful yet demanding words of the Lord: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him” (Jn 12:26). United to him and ready to offer our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 Jn 3:16), let us become apostles of peace, messengers of a joy that does not fear pain – the joy of the Resurrection.On the other hand, I have to wonder (as a fellow anonymous commentator did at Evangelical Catholicism):
What is the proper Christian response to Islamic terrorism? How does it translate, on a practical level, into national foreign policy?It is one thing to lecture the President from the safe and secure confines of a blog. It is quite another to bear the weight of his responsibilities, along with those presently engaged in formulating our foreign policy in securing a free and liberated Iraq and the greater "war on terror."
The dilemma brought to mind the following passage from an essay written by my father -- "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning" - presented by Dr. Blosser at the Tenth Annual Aquinas/Luther Conference held October 24-26, 2002 at Lenoir-Rhyne College and reprinted with kind permission. Forgive the extensive quotations, but I think it relates to the problem at hand:
John Courtney Murray was once asked by a puzzled friend what foreign policy had to do with the Sermon on the Mount. He answered, "What makes you think that morality is identical with the Sermon on the Mount?" Moral reasoning, Murray insisted, was not simply a matter of quoting Scripture. . . .It is questionable whether the problem in Iraq at this point is so much as an internal "civil war" between Sunni and Shia Muslims as an actual war against Iraqi civilians by external forces (or to quote Iraqi cleric Sadroddin Ghabanchi: "a number of Takfiri groups, which have been imposed on us from outside, have come into harmony with the Ba'thist groups and kill Iraqi Shiites and Sunnites"; see also Iraq's Real "Civil War" Wall Street Journal April 5, 2007).
Suffice to say the counsels of scripture do not easily translate into a practical course of action in response to this situation. Some might think "the peaceful option" -- the only Christian option -- would be one of immediate withdrawal from Iraq and a foregoing of the use of military force. I do not think that is the case. And I think we would be reading too much into Benedict's remarks if we were to decipher from them such a call (or even a call "to repentence" on the part of President Bush).
A reader refers me to an article in www.Chiesa -- "Between Venus and Mars, the Church of Rome Chooses Both" -- which dispels the foolish notion that John Paul II was a "pacifist" or necessarily opposed to the use of military force. With respect to the Church's position on Iraq we glean the following:
. . . So during the months of the war in Iraq, various and sometimes opposing approaches operated at the highest levels of the Church, under the insignia of pope Wojtlya. But these different approaches were essentially reconciled beginning in the autumn of 2003. The turning point was the terrorist bloodbath in Nassiriya on November 12. And the new orientation was marked by cardinal Ruini's homily at the Mass for the nineteen Italians who were killed:
In nearly every conversation, the soldiers, Marines and contractors expressed they were upset with the coverage of the war in Iraq in general, and the public perception of the daily situation on the ground.Back in 2004, a single blogger by the name of Arthor Chrenkoff took it upon himself to comb the web for (suprise!) positive news from Iraq - simply to counter the usual news from the mainstream media (hey, nothing sells like the latest carbomb or bloodbath). Over the course of about two years, Chrenkoff produced 35 roundups of "good news" from Iraq AND Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he took on a position whose employer forbade blogging, but I think it's an example worth following. So to end on a good note, I'd like to direct my reader' attention to:
Blessed Easter to all.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Necessary Distinctions - Prudential Judgement & Catholic Social Doctrine
Evangelical Catholicism offers some thoughts today on " Three main weaknesses of today's Catholics", in which Katerina disputes First Things' Robert Miller).
In the comments, Michael Joseph takes a jab at the "neoconservative Catholics":
What's interesting about Miller's article is the utter indefensibility of his claims that bishops do, in fact, have a ceratin "arena" in which their authority properly operates. The separation he artificial creates between the area of "faith and morals" and "political judgments" is not only historically implausible, it is a non-ecclesial importation which creates an a priori framework with which Miller evaluates and gauges episcopal statemets. His separation is a growing trend among some self-styled "neo-conservative" Catholics who, most times unwittingly, filter ecclesial statements into contrived categories such as "absolutes", "doctrinal inference" and "prudential judgment". And yet, where in the history of our Church does such a filter derive other than in our modern times?
Again, I would have to point out Benedict's observation that "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia,", that some areas are open to legitimate differences of opinion -- namely in the application of Catholic social doctrine to particular circumstances. Presumably this room for legitimate disagreement between Catholics extends to economics, welfare reform and resolution to the problem of illegal immigration as well.
In discussions of such topics, charity and civility should prevail. Benedict XV, a notable influence on our present Pope, offered some wise advice in Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (Nov. 1, 1914):
23. As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline - in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See - there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.It's fairly common practice for us to throw around labels when debating fellow Catholics -- "progressive", "neocon", "neo-Catholic", et al. But I do think that Benedict XVI's advice strikes a chord of truth and is something we should take to heart. ("Neocon", for the record, is one label that has been abused to such a great degree that it is often used in complete ignorance of its intellectual roots. I can't think of many self-styled neoconservatives -- I suspect that the trio of Catholics to whom the "neocons" label is commonly applied by their critics, Fr. Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Michael Novak, would probably eschew it if they could).
I agree with Michael that "lack of knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching can result in perceiving the Church's statements on political, economic, and social matters as mere sentimentalism with no adequate application to the world we live in today." To dismiss the teachings of the popes and our bishops in such a manner is certainly a temptation and weakness. But I think it describes but one erroneous and dangerous trait that is present in Catholics today. The other, as Prof. Miller rightly observes, is that:
. . . many Catholics, even highly educated ones, are so poorly catechized that they don’t distinguish between statements they are required to believe with theological faith, statements to which they ought give a religious submission of will and intellect, and other statements that they need only respect and consider in forming their own judgments.I wonder if such an unjustified extension of ecclesial authority that Prof. Miller has in mind is the 2003 statement by Bishop Botean of the Romanian Catholic Diocese of St. George in Canton, Ohio, charging that "any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin," -- and going on to equate "direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion." These are lengths that not even the Pope, nor Cardinal Ratzinger, nor the USCCB, would go to in their opposition to the war.
The distinction between faith and morals" and "political judgments" is more than "artificial" and "contrived", as Michael asserts. In fairness to Prof. Miller, contra Michael's characterization I don't think he is insisting that "the magisterium should stick to faith and morals instead of making statements about 'empirical judgments'" -- but only that Bishops, when rendering prudential judgements on political (or economic) matters, should do so with clarity about their nature, lest they perpetuate the present confusion. Even Dietrich Von Hildebrand in The Vineyard of the Lord cautioned against the inclination "to adhere with complete loyalty to whatever our bishop says" and a "false idea of loyalty to the hierarchy" which failed to make such necessary distinctions.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
The Execution of Saddam Hussein and Church Teaching on the Death Penalty
NOTE: This is a supplement to a prior post, Capital Punishment, Cardinal Martino and the Catholic Church Dec. 29, 2007
John Allen Jr: "ontic" and "practical" absolutes?
This week's National Catholic Reporter: "Church opposition to execution 'practically' absolute" - an assessment of Catholic debate over the death penalty by John Allen Jr., both theoretical and in the context of the execution of Saddam Hussein:
one could argue that the reaction from the Vatican and from senior Catholic officials around the world to the Dec. 30 execution of Saddam Hussein, and its broader opposition to the war in Iraq in the first place, collectively mark a milestone in the evolution of yet another category in Catholic teaching: Positions which are not absolute in principle, but which are increasingly absolute in practice. Opposition to war, unless undertaken in clear self-defense or with the warrant of the international community, and the use of capital punishment are the leading cases in point.In discussion the arguments against the execution of Saddam Hussein, Allen mentions the "seamless garment" position offered by some members of the Vatican curia:
. . . there's the principled argument that the right to life must always be upheld. This point was made in a Dec. 30 interview in Ansa, the Italian news agency, with Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
There are two discussions going on -- the first centering on justifiability of the execution of Saddam Hussein per se; the second spurred by Cardinal Martino's framing of the issue, the merging of prudential judgement and Church teaching and the confusion that characterizes many discussions of this issue.
I think there were some good arguments for and against the execution of Saddam Hussein. I also think that while the execution of a bloody tyrant is just in principle (a case for Saddam's execution being made by Prof. Stephen Bainbridge), the practical manner in which it was carried out left something to be desired. If the New York Times' reporting of the actual situation is accurate (Before Hanging, a Push for Revenge and a Push Back From the U.S.), the Vatican's concerns about the execution seem to be vindicated. And it seems a good number of American officials on the ground had similar concerns as well.
As Richard. B. Woodward mused (Subtext Message: The cellphone video of Saddam's execution OpinionJournal January 4, 2007):
in everything from the partisan chants of Shiite bystanders to the grainy, low-lighted jumpiness of the footage and the horror-movie ski masks of the executioners, the video images of the execution contradict the fragile message that a secure and democratic government is in charge, rendering justice to someone who deserves to die.IraqPundit put it more bluntly: Coming to a Bad End" - January 2, 2007:
I would never have thought it possible that by executing a ruthless mass murderer, Iraq would find a way to disgrace itself. Saddam deserved to hang, yet thanks to the breathtaking stupidity of Nouri Al Maliki's government, not only have Iraqis been further divided by the hanging, they have been diminished by it.
The second discussion -- the larger issue of the death penalty itself and the present confusion in debate over the Church's teaching -- is of greater interest to me, personally. I took issue in my last post with the manner in which Cardinal Martino framed his opposition to the execution -- describing it simply as "a crime" and now, according to John Allen, JR., embracing a "seamless garment of life" ethic ("Man cannot simply dispose of life, and therefore it should be defended from the moment of conception to natural death") ignores the complexities of the Church's position and leads the unwary reader to believe the Church's stance is abolitionist in principle.
Cardinal Dulles, IMHO, possesses more intellectual credibility in his effort to interpret the practical judgement of John Paul II in light of a "hermeneutics of continuity," seeking to reconcile it with Catholic tradition, and likewise asserting that "if the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millenia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture."
First Things' Robert Miller - Need for Clarification
In a post to First Things' blog -- Reading the Bishops Rightly -- Robert T. Miller affirms the importance of distinguishing various levels of Church teaching:
This is not to say that bishops should never speak on questions beyond faith and morals, including on particular questions, such as the execution of Hussein. When they do so, however, it would be better if they were clear on the nature of the statements they are making and the kind of deference faithful Catholics should give them. As things are, such statements tend to engender more confusion than clarity.
There is an ongoing exchange between several Catholic bloggers -- Dr. Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae), Tom Kreitzberg (Disputations) and Paul (sorry, last name?) on this topic, which may be of interest:
Similarities in the "Just War Debate"
As John Allen Jr. and Michael Liccione have both observed, the discussion of the death penalty closely mirrors that which is occuring over just war. There is no dispute over the fact that John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger opposed the war in Iraq, or that Benedict has taken a staunch position against war in his pontificate (Godspy.com's Angelo Matera's series in the National Catholic Register: Benedict, The Peace Pope September 3-9, 2006; Catholic Hawks Circle Benedict September 24-30, 2006). However, as in the death penalty debate, there seems to be a similar erroneous conflation of prudential judgement and Church teaching.
I discussed the present confusion in the just debate in last year's Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition Against The Grain May 18, 2006. By way of a more recent example, the New Oxford Review recently criticized the Catholic Church with exhibiting:
. . . a fundamental discontinuity between the Church's [own] opposition to the war in Iraq and her position with regard to individual support for it, or participation in it. More specifically, despite her well-known opposition to the war, the Church has failed to impose moral sanctions against those who directly or indirectly support it. The incongruity between her words and her actions substantially undercuts the Church's moral position on Iraq, and reduces the NOR's editorial position from championing Catholic truth to advocating an editorial opinion.("Should Catholics Defend America?", by Paul R. Muessig. New Oxford Review July /August 2006).
After a jab at "neoconservative cabalists . . . foisting their Zionist vision of an uncritically pro-Israel American Empire on a complacent and largely ignorant American public", Muessig directs his attention to Catholics who "claim to be orthodox but support the war":
there's not an honest one in the bunch. They are no better than the cafeteria Catholics who support abortion, picking and choosing by which of the hard moral teachings of the Church they will abide. Given the choice between serving God or mammon, they have chosen the latter.Muessig will no doubt remain unsatisfied until Fr. Neuhaus, Michael Novak or George Weigel receive some moral sanction at the hands of their bishop.
James Turner Johnson, in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future, criticized the guiding hermeneutics of the Catholic Bishops in the debate over Iraq which contrasts with the classical just war tradition. To quote directly from Johnson:
. . . As the bishops have developed and applied a 'presumption against war' in various contexts since 1983, they have transformed the traditional just war categories from moral concerns to guide the practice of statecraft into a series of moral obstacles that, as described and interpreted, are arguments against the use of moral force's ever being justifiable. The regular advancing of worst-case scenarios as unbiased moral advice underscores the opposition to uses of armed force as such and distorts the application of just war reasoning. The result is functional pacifism, despite the claim that this is what the just war idea requires. [p. 49]I am unable to do Johnson justice in my blog, but encourage a reading of his book. An earlier portion of the text was published in First Things as Just War, As It Was and Is First Things 149 (January 2005): 14-24.
George Weigel has also offered a study of the transition of Catholic thought on war and peace in Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace, Oxford University Press, 1987 -- dwelling chiefly on the Second Vatican Council and positions on war taken by U.S. Catholic Bishops. (See this Review by Charles J. Leonard. Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly Newsletter Vol. 10, No. 4. Sept. 1987).
Bracketing for a moment the specific case of the war in Iraq, I think Dr. Johnson has demonstrated that there has been intellectual transition in contemporary Church thought on the interpretation of just war teaching which stands in sharp contrast to 'classical' Catholic tradition. More often than not, the Vatican, while registering its practical judgement on empirical matters regarding the war and the death penalty, has not adequately clarified or conveyed its present position in a way that reconciles it to past teaching.
According to John Allen, Jr.:
Indications from the Vatican and from a wide swath of Catholic officialdom suggest that in practice, it's unlikely there will ever again be a war (defined as the initiation of hostilities without international warrant) or an execution the church does not officially oppose.A conclusion that I find personally troubling, in light of the widespread confusion it has wrought and its tenuous relationship with -- echoing Cardinal Dulles -- "two millenia of Catholic thought."
Saturday, August 19, 2006
War "no good to anyone" - The words of a Pacifist Pope?
On August 13, 2006 Pope Benedict gave a first-of-its-kind television interview with German televisions ARD-Bayerischer Rundfunk, ZDF (complete transcript available on the Vatican website). We'll get the to the content and commentary of the interview in our upcoming Pope Benedict roundup, but this past week there has been much discussion on a particular segment:
Question: Holy Father, a question about the situation regarding foreign politics. Hopes for peace in the Middle East have been dwindling over the past weeks: What do you see as the Holy See’s role in relationship to the present situation? What positive influences can you have on the situation, on developments in the Middle East?That war is, indeed, "no good for anyone" prompted the following protest from First Things' blogger Robert Miller:
I find it difficult to understand how the pope says this. Along with many others, I often invoke the Second World War as the paradigm example of a just war, of a case where morality not only permitted but required the use of armed force in order to combat evil. But here Benedict, expressly mentioning the world wars, says that they brought no good to anyone. No good to Elie Wiesel, and all the other prisoners liberated from Buchenwald? No good to the peoples of France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and others saved from Nazi domination? No good to the Poles and other Slavs, destined to slavery to support the Third Reich? No good to the young Joseph Ratzinger, who, freed from service in the Wehrmacht, was able to enter seminary, study theology, become a priest and a professor, and live to become pope?Needless to say, Miller's challenge caused quite a stir.
In response to that particular post, "rcesq", a member and contributor to the RatzingerFanClub's EzBoard forum, pointed out to me that, in Cardinal Ratzinger's address in Normandy on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of D-Day (reprinted as Chapter 6 of Values in a Time of Upheaval, first published April 2005, new edition by Ignatius Press 2006) -- we have good reason not to hasten to the conclusion from such papal comments as "war is the worst solution for all sides" and "today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war"" -- that we are in the presence of a pacifist-pope.
What follows are my friend rcesq's observations, quoted in full (with permission) for your consideration:
[In his Normandy address], the Cardinal describes how the Nazis had seized power and caused
justice and injustice, law and crime [to become] entangled by carrying out both the legislative and administrative functions of the state. It was therefore in one sense entitled to demand that the citizens obey the law and respect the authority of the state (Rom 13:1ff!), while at the same time this government also employed the judicial organs as instruments in pursuit of its own criminal goals. The legal order itself continued to function in its usual forms in everyday lives, at least in part; at the same time, it had become a power that was used to undermine law.According to the Cardinal,
[t]he only way to shatter this cycle of crime and reestablish the rule of law was an intervention by the whole world. . . . Here it is clear that the intervention of the Allies was a bellum iustum, a "just war" . . . perhaps the clearest example in all history of a just war.Calling WWII a "just war" is pretty obvious and most commentators would place that conflict squarely in the just war tradition as you have explained. What's interesting, though, is that the Cardinal does not justify the war on the ground of self-defense. After all, each of the Allied powers had been attacked first by the Nazis.
Instead, Ratzinger considers the war justified because it liberated the German people from their criminal government, gave them freedom and restored the rule of law. He describes it as an "intervention" -- which sounds like the language used in AA programs when family and friends gather together to "stage an intervention" for the benefit of letting a drug or alcohol addicted friend or family member know that help for self-destructive behavior is available and required. Such a "therapeutic" approach to justifying war is not something I saw [in my prior blog-discussion of just war].
The Cardinal goes on to declare that this "real event in history shows that an absolute pacifism is untenable." Even though it appears that some just war moralists are heading in the direction of pacifism by setting the bar for justifying war impossibly high, one would expect this far more rational conclusion from someone as grounded in reality as Joseph Ratzinger, who knows well that man is fallen and sinful and will fall and sin over and over again.
It seems unusual and is, to me, unexpected, that the Cardinal would open the door to justifying military intervention "against unjust systems of government," when the intervention "serves to promote peace and accepts the moral criteria for peace." Does this allow a "pre-emptive war" against a criminal regime that flouts resolutions of the United Nations to disarm, terrorizes and kills thousands of its own people, repeatedly attacks it neighbors without provocation, and credibly boasts of having weapons of mass destruction? One could argue that it does. After all, one can look at such a regime as suffering from an addiction that requires intervention. Unfortunately, the address just offers this tantalizing thought and then moves on.
Farther on in the address, the Cardinal turns to the phenomenon of "terror, which has become a new kind of world war." He contrasts the destructive powers that lay in the hands of recognized superpowers -- who one hoped would be susceptible to reason -- with those potentially in the hands of terrorists, who cannot be counted on to be rational because self-destruction is a basic element in terrorism's power. He identifies as a "basic truth" that it is impossible to overcome terrorism by force alone, but notes that:
the defense of the rule of law against those who seek to destroy it must sometimes employ violence. This element of force must be precisely calculated, and its goal must always be the protection of the law. An absolute pacifism that refused to grant the law any effective means for its enforcement would be a capitulation to injustice. It would sanction the seizure of power by this injustice and would surrender the world to the dictatorship of force. . . .Again, the Cardinal's thoughts suggest that it could be entirely legitimate for a country like Israel to use force against terrorists who try to undermine it; provided that the force is "precisely calculated." Naturally you have to ask how you calculate force precisely, even with so-called smart bombs: human error will occur and you can end up with horrible misfires. But I think that the Cardinal's reasoning does contradict those pundits who claim that American and Israeli soldiers are somehow acting immorally because their cause is unjustifiable.
The Cardinal posits another limit to the justifiable use of force against terror: "strict criteria that are recognizable by all," and cautions against one power's going it alone to enforce the rule of law (not stated but obvious: unilateral U.S. action). He also calls for an investigation into and addressing of the causes of terrorism that "often has its source in injustices against which no effective action is taken." This formula for dealing with terror strikes me as a fair balance of realism and idealism, practicality and morality. It's certainly not woolly headed or starry eyed -- which is how some of the bishops' pronouncements sometimes sound to me.
Ultimately, however, Cardinal Ratzinger advocates the way of Christ. Forgiveness is necessary to break the cycle of violence.
Gestures of humanity that break through [the cycle] by seeking the human person in one's foe and appealing to his humanity are necessary, even where they seem at first glance a waste of time.These thoughts may be useful tools to assess what is happening now with Israel. I think it's possible to see their influence in Benedict XVI's endorsement of the G-8 position while he is pleading for an end to the violence and prays so fervently for peace. [The Ratzinger Forum; edited by: rcesq at: 8/2/06 5:32 pm]
"As is usual with Cardinal Ratzinger's writings, he sketches ideas, asks provocative questions, but offers no definitive answers," concludes "rcesq". At the end of my own post, I closed with the pressing need for some kind of authoritative clarification on the status of the "just war tradition", together with the proper interpretation of papal pronouncements on the war in an informal context.
Ratzinger's own thoughts on the use of force, as published in Chapter 6 of Values in a time of Upheaval will hopefully alleviate somewhat Robert Miller's concerns of a "dangerously naive pacifism."
Reading the diverse reactions on Open Book, I found Tom Haessler's comment on the different papal "styles" especially helpful:
Benedict XVI's theological and homiletic rhetoric is more kerygma (proclamation) than didache (teaching). John Paul the Great was immersed in Aquinas and modern phenomenology. Benedict XVI is immersed in the Fathers, especially in Augustine. The parsing of various aspects of just war theory is quite foreign to his approach. He's trying to call all to their senses, to awaken new communities of conscience, to help us discover new zones of sensitivity and awareness not previously attended to; he's NOT playing Jesuit anagrams with just war theory. Far from believing that military force is always wrong, he's supported the Afghanistan and Kosovo interventions. But he'd be the last one to insist that his own prudential judgments trump every careful scrutiny of all pertinent aspects of an enormously complex problematic. He's asking that he be heard, not that he be obeyed. . . . we're all orthodox Catholics here, trying to discover God's will in fidelity to all the values and norms we've learned through our membership in the Body of Christ. We all have something to teach (through our own experience), and we all have something to learn.