Sunday, November 30, 2003

Pacifism & the end of the 'Just War' Tradition?

There are two mistakes made by those criticizing the United States' war in Iraq (and Catholics defending the decision to go to war). The first, and more common mistake, is that of conflating the Church's "official" position on the war with the various statements made by Vatican representatives and scathing editorials in Catholic publications like L'Osservatore Romano, which I have addressed in recent posts to this blog.

A second mistake, greater in its implications for the Church and the role of Catholics in international affairs (particularly Catholics in the military), would be the conclusion that the utter destructiveness of modern technological weaponry has rendered the "just war tradition" absolete -- that the only genuine position Christians should arrive at in this day and age would be the resounding "NO!" of the pacifist. To the extent that these mistakes continue and are not refuted, civilized debate over the justifiability of the U.S. war in Iraq is compromised.

Cardinal Martino, former representative for the Vatican at the U.N. and now head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has given some of fuel to this erroneous conclusion, in one case by referring to the prospect of war in Iraq as a "crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God" 1; and in another, by speculating in an interview with the National Catholic Register (March 23-29, 2003), that there may be "no such thing" as a just war:

Question: "Are you suggesting there is no such thing as a just war anymore?"

Archbishop Martino: "Absolutely. I think with modern weaponry, there is no proportionality between the offense and the reply. It makes much more damage. War is so destructive now. It is not just a fight between one person and another." 2

Martino's speculation prompted a response from Weigel, who in his column took issue with what appeared to be a "repeal fifteen hundred years of settled Catholic teaching with a single adverb." 3 In another interview conducted that same month with Traces, Martino likened the Pope's argument for a development in the Church's position on the death penalty to that of the just war tradition: "[just as] modern society by now has all the means for avoiding the death penalty . . . modern society has all the means for avoiding war: negotiations, dialogue, inspectors -- all provisions that can avoid conflict." 4 At the same time, however, he distinguishes the Holy Father's position and the Church's understanding of peace from the pacifism espoused by the masses, pointing out that "[The Pope] said that military action could be the last resort only when all attempts to avoid conflict have been exhausted, and that the conflict must in any case be proportionate to the harm done, it must take into account the unarmed population, and it must be in response to a wrong and not the possibility of a wrong," -- that is to say, traditional principles of just war which constitute the criteria for debate.

Martino aside, there has been enough rhetorical excesses by Vatican curia -- including Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Holy See's Secretary of State; Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretary for Relations with States; Cardinal Pio Laghi, former papal nuncio to the U.S., who was called to undertake a special embassy to President Bush; and Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the omnipresent Vatican press spokesman -- and subsequent interpretations by the press and the antiwar movement to warrant concern of scholars like Michael Ulhmann, who worried:

. . . more troubling than [criticism of the war by Vatican representatives] was the extent to which their interpretation of just-war criteria reflected the influence of pacifist sentiment. This would be officially denied, of course, but it could be argued that the Church has already moved toward pacifism without explicitly saying so . . . on at least two occasions in recent years, John Paul seemed to go out of his way to deny that the Church was pacifist; but the mere fact that he felt it necessary to say so only served to underscore the widespread inference that the Church is moving along that path. The truth seems to be that while the Church continues to embrace traditional just-war criteria, its understanding of those criteria and how they ought to be applied is being reexamined. 5

This concern was reiterated by George Weigel:

"To judge by the statements of some of its officials and by virtually every bishops' conference in the world, the senior leadership of the Catholic Church is deeply reluctant to acknowledge the legitimate role of hard power under some circumstances; were this reluctance to become further institutionalized, the impact of a fuctionally pacifist Church on the world politics of the 21st century could be considerable." 6

Weigel and Ulhmann may be therefore be pleased to learn that, according to Sandro Magister, the Vatican is bringing a end to the inflammatory rhetoric through some personnel changes. On November 24, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran was reassigned from his post as the Holy See's foreign minister to become the archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church, replaced by the seasoned Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. Magister also reports that Cardinal Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state, has "ordered a halt to 'recriminations' over the past." (One of those advised was Cardinal Martino). Apparently even the editor of L'Osservatore Romano was ordered by the secretariat of state to tone down the newspaper's anti-war stance and focus on the "mission of peace" in Iraq. 7

From reading the papers here in the U.S. (particulary the New York Times or the National Catholic Reporter), one might receive the impression that the Catholic debate over Iraq consists of a small band of Catholic 'neoconservatives' in America v.s. the Vatican curia and conferences of Catholic Bishops around the world. But according to Magister, the Italian periodical Avvenire -- "headed by Camillo Cardinal Ruini and its chief editorialist on matters of international politics, Vittorio E. Parsi, a professor at the Catholic University of Milan," -- do not hold the same view of the Bush Administration or the mission in Iraq as the rest of the Vatican curia.

Studi Cattolici ("Catholic Studies"), "directed by Cesare Cavalleri, an Opus Dei numerary, and is printed by Ares, the publishing house that has exclusive rights in Italy for the works of St. Josemarìa Escrivà," published a collection of articles under the title "The American Experiment" critical of the anti-American stance of the Church and the Vatican itself. 8

Also, the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, a published in the Pope's hometown of Krakow, Poland, is also supportive of the war in Iraq (and according to Magister reflective of the feelings of many Polish Catholics):

While the church and Catholic opinion in Italy and Spain were opposed to the war en masse, the opposite was the case in Poland. The church and Catholics in large part supported it. Without, at the same time, feeling out of step with the pope. There is an important weekly paper in Poland that's editorial line fully represents this sense of balance between support for the war and obedience to the head of the church. Called "Tygodnik Powszechny," it is the voice of a group of very prestigious Catholic intellectuals. It is printed in Krakow, has always had Karol Wojtyla as a supporter and friend and has even had him as a writer before he became pope. In the years of transition from communism to democracy, the paper's main pillar was Jerzy Turowicz (1912-1999), a leading exponent of liberal Catholicism and a great friend of Wojtyla's. The current director is Father Adam Boniecki, former editor of the Polish edition of the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano and someone who is also very close to the pope. . . .

Among the bylines that appear are those of the Americans George Weigel, Michael Novak and Edward Luttwak. The articles don't all take the same line. Those which represent the paper's views are above all those written by the director, Father Adam Boniecki, and one of his main commentators, Wojciech Pieciak [both of whom have argued for U.S. action in Iraq]. 9

I hope to explore a number of tangents in the future -- among them a closer analysis of the Church's conception of peace as distinguished from that of the anti-war pacifist movement; the question of the United Nations as final arbiter of the legality of the U.S.' action in Iraq (both of these points were expressed in greater detail in Martino's interview w/ Traces).

  1. Military Intervention in Iraq Would Be a Crime. Zenit News Service 3/17/03.
  2. The source of the quote is a citation by George Weigel's column "The Catholic Difference." Unfortunately, the Register does not make available online the full text of the interview w/ Martino to my knowledge.
  3. Hoping Against All Hope. Interview w/ Traces, March 2003.
  4. No just war possible?, "The Catholic Difference". April 2, 2003.
  5. The Use and Abuse of Just-War Theory, by Michael Ulhmann. Claremont Review of Books Summer 2003.
  6. The Morality of War. Commentary Magazine, July-August 2003.
  7. Iraq: The Church Goes on a Mission of Peace L'espresso no. 49, November 28- December 4, 2003.
  8. With the Pope or with Bush? Studi Cattolici Stands with Both, by Sandro Magister. Chiesa. July 29, 2003.
  9. Poland's Catholics Depart for Iraq. With the United States and the Pope, by Sandro Magister. Chiesa. May 5, 2003.