Monday, March 31, 2003

I keep trying to get away from blogging on war

[pacino]...But every time I try to get out, they PULL me back in! [/pacino]

Mark at Minute Particulars quotes (via some intermediaries) from JP II's Centesimus Annus, along with commentary. I have not yet read the original document, so please understand how provisional my comments here are. (I make them at all without having read it only because I am not quite sure when I will find the time to read it over the next few weeks.)

Finally, Centesimus Annus, with echoes of earlier 20th-century popes, presents John Paul II's negative judgment about war as an instrument of policy:

No, never again war, which destroys lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war.

This passage has become almost a leitmotiv in the Vatican's response to the use of force, repeated again and again in papal statements and other Vatican declarations.

As a rule of thumb, I would suggest that here as elsewhere the Pope should be taken at his word. While the form is rhetorical, the substance is serious. The point is that the consequences of war are beyond calculation. We should consider soberly whether the use of force does, in fact, do what the Pope says. Above all, does it take the life of innocent people? Does it leave behind a trail of resentment and hatred? Does it make finding a just solution more difficult? These objections do not rule out resorting to force, especially in case of humanitarian intervention. They do imply that every effort must be taken to avoid the vastly unpredictable consequences of taking up arms.

This is the undertone that has been troubling to me. If, as the author Mark quotes (none of what is here is his work) suggests, we are meant to take the Pope at the plain meaning of his words, he does not "imply that every effort must be taken to avoid...taking up arms." War is now prohibited: "No, never again war."

I can accept that war is undersirable. I can even admit (sort of) that "war is always a disaster" (albeit with major provisos to the precise meaning of that sentence). But--and I have said this over and over and over again--if war is ever just, then peace is sometimes sinful. "No, never again war" denies that essential truth, that has guided Catholic teaching since Augustine. But, instead of saying "our just war teaching has been wrong all these years" (for you know, we never make that sort of error) we say that the consequences of war are so terrible that we will no longer acknowledge any particular war as just.

Now, the Holy Father has not, in fact, quite gone so far as this. He seemed more or less to admit the justice of "Operation: Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan after September 11 (though he was decidedly more vague about approving of that than he has been about disapproving of war in/with Iraq). But this undertone of "No, never again war" that rules out a priori the use of force is present, if not quite enforced as yet. Some of us who have been having a hard time with the Church's teaching at the present moment have sometimes been chastised for suggesting that the Pope and the bishops were inching towards exactly that. It is now on them to show that the Church is not slouching away from just war doctrine.


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