The United States' war against terrorism and subsequent war against Iraq has provoked much discussion and reflection among Catholics. Although sharply divided, most argued for or against the war on the basis of the Catholic just war tradition. (A minority of pacifists, in addition, have argued that the devastation caused by modern weapons of war have rendered any discussion of a "just war" illegitimate).
The purpose of this website is to provide a resource of information for those engaging in the debate over Iraq from a Catholic perspective. Secondary to this, I hope to provide further resources for those interested in the development of the just war tradition in general.
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.
I'd say that we cannot ignore, in the great Christian tradition and in a world marked by sin, any evil aggression that threatens to destroy not only many values, many people, but the image of humanity itself.
In this case, defending oneself and others is a duty. Let's say for example that a father who sees his family attacked is duty-bound to defend them in every way possible -- even if that means using proportional violence.
Thus, the just war problem is defined according to these parameters:
1) Everything must be conscientiously considered, and every alternative explored if there is even just one possibility to save human life and values;
2) Only the most necessary means of defense should be used and human rights must always be respected; in such a war the enemy must be respected as a human being and all fundamental rights must be respected.
I think that the Christian tradition on this point has provided answers that must be updated on the basis of new methods of destruction and of new dangers. For example, there may be no way for a population to defend itself from an atomic bomb. So, these must be updated.
But I'd say that we cannot totally exclude the need, the moral need, to suitably defend people and values against unjust aggressors. …
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger does not believe that a unilateral military attack by the United States against Iraq would be morally justifiable, under the current circumstances.
According to the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- who acknowledged that political questions are not within his competence -- "the United Nations is the [institution] that should make the final decision."
"It is necessary that the community of nations makes the decision, not a particular power," the cardinal said, after receiving the 2002 Trieste Liberal Award. His statements were published Saturday in the Italian newspaper Avvenire.
"The fact that the United Nations is seeking the way to avoid war, seems to me to demonstrate with enough evidence that the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save," the cardinal said.
He said that "the U.N. can be criticized" from several points of view, but "it is the instrument created after the war for the coordination -- including moral -- of politics."
The "concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church," Cardinal Ratzinger noted.
"One cannot simply say that the catechism does not legitimize the war," he continued. "But it is true that the catechism has developed a doctrine that, on one hand, does not exclude the fact that there are values and peoples that must be defended in some circumstances; on the other hand, it offers a very precise doctrine on the limits of these possibilities."
Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?
Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.
The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."
3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
Robert P. George Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is also a board member at Institute for Religion & Democracy.
Who Is Ahmed Hikmat Shakir?Weekly Standard June 23, 2004. Cutting Through the Fog "Did the 9/11 commission staff statement really say that there was no connection between Saddam and al Qaeda?" Los Angeles Timese June 22, 2004. The Connection "Not so long ago, the ties between Iraq and al Qaeda were conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom was right" Weekly Standard Volume 009, Issue 37. June 7, 2004. More Connections "Two new members of the Iraqi interim government insist that Saddam and al Qaeda were linked." Weekly Standard Online. June 3, 2004. The Imminence Myth "What the Bush administration really said about the threat from Iraq." Weekly Standard February 16, 2004. The Clinton View of Iraq-al Qaeda Ties. Weekly Standard Dec. 29, 2003. Case Closed. "The U.S. government's secret memo detailing cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden." Weekly Standard Nov. 24, 2003.
Michael Novak Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
George Weigel George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America's leading public intellectuals.
From 1989 through June 1996, Weigel was president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he led a wide-ranging, ecumenical and inter-religious program of research and publication on foreign and domestic policy issues. From June 1996, as a Senior Fellow of the Center, Weigel prepared a major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II. Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II was published to international acclaim in the Fall of 1999.
Weigel has been awarded ten honorary doctorates, the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, and the Gloria Artis Gold Medal by the Republic of Poland. He serves on the boards of directors of several organizations dedicated to human rights and the cause of religious freedom and is a member of the editorial board of First Things.
Gaudium Et Spes Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Vatican II.
Pre-emption, Iraq, and Just War: A Statement of Principles, by David Blankenhorn, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Francis Fukuyama, William A. Galston, John Kelsay, Robert Putnam, Theda Skocpol, Max L. Stackhouse, and Paul C. Vitz. Institute for American Values. November 14, 2002. In Time of War, by the editors of First Things. What We're Fighting for: A Letter from America. An open letter in defense of the U.S. war on terrorism has been signed by 60 prominent American intellectuals and published by the Institute for American Values. The letter analyzes "just war" principles and discusses the universal values at stake in the conflict. Institute for American Values, Feb. 2002.