Sunday, May 23, 2004

Cardinal Stafford responds to Weigel

Zenit News Service recently interviewed Cardinal James Francis Stafford, major penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a tribunal of the Holy See, and a former archbishop of Denver. Cardinal Stafford responded to several questions -- Is there a presumption against war in Catholic teaching? What does the Pope mean when he speaks of humanitarian intervention? What is the Holy See's position on the United Nations, an organization that not infrequently opposes Catholic teaching? -- and addressed the criticisms of scholars James Turner Johnson and George Weigel (most recently in "World Order: What Catholics Forgot" First Things 143 May 2004: 31-38).

Questioning what he calls the "functional pacifism" characterizing recent statements by the Vatican curia, Weigel asked: "what is one to do with John Paul II's insistence on a 'duty' of 'humanitarian intervention' which would presumably include the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force, in cases of impending or actual genocide?"

Cardinal Stafford responds to Weigel by asserting that the Pope spoke first not of humanitarian intervention but of humanitarian assistance, and specifically in the context of "armed conflicts taking place within states," rooted in "long-standing historical motives of an ethnic, tribal or religious character," and which, because of their use of small-caliber weapons, "often have grave consequences which spill over the borders of the country in question, involving outside interests and responsibilities."

"In the first place, the Pope speaks of humanitarian aid," Cardinal Stafford continued. "He described this as 'the pre-eminent value of humanitarian law and the consequent duty to guarantee the right to humanitarian aid to suffering civilians and refugees.' He then insists on the greatest importance of continued negotiation in such conflicts.

"Then the Pope speaks of humanitarian intervention. He says, 'When a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defense prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor.'"

"So the context of humanitarian intervention is: How does one get aid to people who are being oppressed by internal conflict within a given state?" noted the cardinal. "George Weigel's interpretation of the Pope's teaching on humanitarian intervention is excessively abbreviated and even misleading in what he omits."

"Weigel says that he presumes that such intervention would 'include the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force in cases of impending and actual genocide,'" Cardinal Stafford said.

"I find it curious that he makes no mention of the Pope's immediate qualifiers regarding the decision for 'humanitarian intervention,' which are severe and specific," he added. "'These measures must be limited in time and precise in their aims. They must be carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized and in any event never left to the outcome of armed conflict alone.'"

The cardinal continued: "The chief qualifier is that, 'the fullest and best use must therefore be made of all the provisions of the United Nations Charter.' That's important, the qualifiers that are not mentioned either by Weigel or Turner; that is, you must have respect for international law, you must involve the internationally recognized organization."

As we noted earlier, Weigel and Johnson have both questioned the contension that Catholic teaching contains a "presumption against war" as contrary to classical Catholic just war teaching. According to Cardinal Stafford, the U.S. Catholic Bishop's novel assertion of a "presumption against war" coincides with the Pope's teaching in his message on World Peace Day 2000:

'War is a defeat for humanity. Only in peace and through peace can respect for human dignity and its inalienable rights be guaranteed. Against the backdrop of war in the 20th century, humanity's honor has been preserved by those who have spoken and worked on behalf of peace. ... Those who have built their lives on the value of non-violence have given us luminous and prophetic examples.'"

"It should be noted," Cardinal Stafford said, "that the Pope explicitly places his emphatic choice of peace against the background of 20th-century total warfare, not the tribal conflicts of fifth-century North Africa where the first enunciation of the just war criteria were developed by St. Augustine. I think that one should look at the bishops' statement in light of the Pope's abhorrence for war and when he says it is a defeat for mankind.

"The Pope himself is building upon the experience of the 20th century and modifying, as he perceives it, the just war criteria. Augustine says nowhere as clearly as the Pope does, 'War is a defeat for humanity.'"

". . . It doesn't lead to functional pacifism but it is leading to a presumption against preventive war," Cardinal Stafford said. "The Pope is saying that we must exhaust every possible means including the U.N. before this presumption is able to be overcome. I don't think that's being emphasized by neoconservative arguments."

Personally, I think that 'neocons' Weigel, Novak, Johnson, et al. might contend that "every possible means" had in fact been exhausted at that point -- the various U.N. resolutions against Iraq; the weapons inspections that could be easily thwarted; the economic sanctions (which in themselves were having a detrimental effect and could be justifiably criticized as immoral for "punishing the people" for the crimes of their tyrant).

Furthermore, the increasing evidence of corruption in the administration of the "Oil-for-food" program implicating not only members of the United Nations but two nations of the Security Council (France and Russia) has, in my opnion, cast some doubt on the United Nation's in facilitating "every possible means" in averting a conflict with Saddam Hussein. As the author of Friends of Saddam, a blog which has been chronicling the "Oil-For-Food" scandal, explains:

It is not just about which bureaucrat had his hand in the till. Nor is it just about which company slipped a dictator a few (or many) bucks. It is about the UN and its legitimacy. During the run-up to the Iraq war, George Bush's opponents accused him of many misdeeds. Chief among them was "going to war without the UN." But if, the UN was, in fact, Saddam's enabler, if the UN Secretariat was effectively on Saddam's payroll, if important people in major antiwar countries were likewise beholden to the Iraqi regime, then that casts a wholly different light on "unilateralism."

And that is precisely why so many people, on both sides of the global debate, weigh in strongly on the Oil-for-Food scandal.

Stafford then responds to the contention that the United Nations is an inefficient organization, incapable of carrying out its mandates and, worse, supportive of policies that directly oppose the teaching of the Catholic Church. Stafford admitted that he, too, was "discomforted" by the U.N.'s endorsement of policies contrary to Catholic moral teaching, nevertheless:

"The Pope in various World Youth Day messages emphasized the importance not simply of relying upon the U.N. as it exists now, but of a further enhancement of its peacemaking capacities," the cardinal said. "As a matter of fact, we are living in a world in which the only pre-eminent, internationally recognized authority is the U.N.

"I'm convinced that the Holy See must critically discern the role of non-governmental organizations which are very strong activists for the anti-family, anti-life, anti-conception, pro-abortion positions and pro-gay positions that the U.N. has adopted or is seen to be moving towards. But that is a different tract and I think there are important allies that transcend cultures, including Islamic nations, that the Holy See and Catholic and Christian peoples throughout the world can rely upon regarding these issues."

"We're living in a very ambiguous moral situation in which both the wheat and the tares are growing together and you know what Jesus said about that: Let them grow together," said Cardinal Stafford.

"How long does one tolerate that?" he asked. "The time has not yet come to say that we must jettison the Church's support of the U.N. based upon the immoral positions they're taking on family, marriage and life issues."

I found Cardinal Stafford's last response especially disappointing -- and actually, I believe set up a straw man, as it were, by neglecting to provide in greater detail Weigel's complete criticism of the U.N. and the role of the Security Council as sole arbiter of justified force:

Since 1945, 126 out of 189 UN member states have been involved in 291 armed conflicts in which some twenty-two million people have been killed. Given this record, it is difficult to argue that the “international community” has agreed in practice to be bound by the UN Charter and its rules on the use of force. It is even more difficult to argue that the “international community” has ceded an effective monopoly on the use of force to those actions sanctioned by the Security Council. Perhaps it should; perhaps it someday will. But to assert as a matter of fact that this transfer of authority has taken place seems counterfactual today.

. . . the present structure of the Security Council is thoroughly unrealistic. Granting veto power on the Security Council to five states -- China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States -- does not reflect the realities of contemporary world politics, but rather a set of political accommodations reached for various reasons at the end of the Second World War. The rotation of the other nine Security Council seats takes place through a process which, again, does not reflect the realities of power. These structural problems themselves should raise questions about the moral standing of the Security Council and the claim that it alone is the locus of moral authority over the use of armed force in world politics.

If we probe a little deeper, other problems emerge as well. How, for example, is moral legitimacy conferred by the Security Council when three of its permanent members -- China, France, and Russia -- formulate their foreign policies on explicitly realpolitik grounds that have little or nothing to do with moral reasoning about world politics as the Catholic Church understands it? Can an amoral calculus yield a morally determinative result? If so, it remains to be shown how.