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Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today. Website URL: http://www.catholicnews.com/

Peace and the just use of force

In light of the escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea, Stephen M. Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace, answered these questions about Catholic Church teaching and war.
 
Q: Does the Catholic Church have any formal criteria for when war is justified?
A: Yes. Over the centuries, since the time of St. Augustine, the Catholic Church has developed a "just-war tradition" that allows for defense. It may be helpful to refer to the "just use of force," since modern wars are so much more destructive due to modern weaponry. We have a prior obligation "to work for the avoidance of war" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2308). The use of force must always be a "last resort."
 
The catechism teaches: "The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the 'just-war' doctrine" (2309).
 
Q: According to the Church, are there limits to what is acceptable once war has been declared?
A: Absolutely, the tradition rejects "total war," in which anything goes. The Church lifts up the principles of proportionality and discrimination. The use of armed force must not bring about greater evils than legitimate defense requires, and the use of force must not indiscriminately kill combatants and civilians alike. "Noncombatants, wounded soldiers and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely" (2313).
 
Q: Why doesn't the Church just say that war is wrong?
A: Pope Francis captured the essence of the Church's teaching on war. "War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI resound again: '... War never again, never again war!'" (Sept. 7, 2016).
 
We must build peace. In the famous words of Blessed Pope Paul VI, "If we want peace, we must work for justice." In a fallen world in which violence occurs, "'governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed'" (Catechism, 2308). At the same time, we should not underestimate the power of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance to evil. Pope Francis dedicated his Jan. 1, 2017, World Day of Peace Message to "Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace," a profound challenge in our day.
 
Q: How does the Church's teaching about war apply to nuclear weapons?
A: The use of nuclear weapons is morally problematic due to their disproportionate and indiscriminate destructive power. The Church today is working for a world without nuclear weapons. Quoting the Second Vatican Council, the catechism teaches: "'Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.' A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons -- especially atomic, biological or chemical weapons -- to commit such crimes" (2314).
 
Q: Is a government allowed to unleash a pre-emptive military or nuclear strike when it fears attack on itself or an ally is imminent?
A: This question is both simple and complex. The simple part concerns a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, quoting Vatican II, declares: "(T)he magisterium has made a moral evaluation of the phenomenon of deterrence. 'The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. ... This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them.' Policies of nuclear deterrence, typical of the Cold War period, must be replaced with concrete measures of disarmament based on dialogue and multilateral negotiations" (508). The first use of nuclear weapons is highly problematic. As far back as the 1983 Peace Pastoral, the U.S. bishops raised serious moral questions regarding a first use of nuclear weapons.
 
The more complex question is the use of pre-emptive conventional forces. "Fear" of attack is not enough. There must be concrete evidence of an imminent threat. The "the damage inflicted by the aggressor ... must be lasting, grave and certain" (Catechism, 2309). Given human frailty, e.g. the failures of intelligence prior to the Iraq war, prudence would suggest that we be reticent to launch a pre-emptive attack. It is certainly unjust to launch a "preventive" attack against a gathering or vague threat. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now retired Pope Benedict XVI, noted before the Iraq war, the "concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church." We must always remember that we have an obligation "to work for the avoidance of war" (Catechism, 2308).
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Hurricane Harvey

Catholic dioceses and charities are quickly organizing to help in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall with winds of 130 miles per hour late on Aug. 25 into the Rockport, Texas area, northeast of Corpus Christi.
 
The hurricane, named Harvey, is said to be the strongest one to hit the United States in more than a decade and perhaps the strongest one to make landfall in Texas.
 
Catholic Charities USA, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Disaster Services, announced early on Aug. 26 that they're mobilizing to help an as-yet-unknown number of persons affected by the hurricane. The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has a list of charities helping with the disaster listed on its website at txcatholic.org/harvey.
 
Because of safety issues, not many emergency teams have been yet able to respond to the aftermath. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared the state a disaster area, which will allow federal money to help in reconstruction. Catholic groups said they want to help with the immediate needs of the communities affected.
 
"We will be sending in rapid-response teams to help our impacted St. Vincent de Paul councils and we are coordinating nationally with the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta and (Catholic Charities USA)," said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA.
 
In the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, Bishop Daniel E. Flores authorized a second collection to be taken up at the Diocese's local churches on the weekend of Aug. 26-27 to send to Catholic Charities in nearby Corpus Christi and "other places hardest hit by loss of power, storm damage, flooding."
 
It's been hard to communicate with other areas, said Bishop Flores in an Aug. 26 interview with Catholic News Service, so it's hard to gauge the extent of the damage. But he said his Diocese wanted to get a head start to quickly divert help where it is needed and as fast as possible.
 
If the Rio Grande Valley, where Bishop Flores' Diocese is located, was spared the major impact of Hurricane Harvey, then the Diocese had a duty to help their neighbors to the north, in the coastal areas of Corpus Christi and Galveston-Houston, which seemed to be hit hardest, he said. Hurricane Harvey seemed to enter near Corpus Christi and affected seven coastal counties in Texas and one Louisiana parish.
 
"We continue to pray for every for everyone affected by the hurricane and those who are at risk as the storms continue," said Bishop Flores in a statement.
 
Though the brunt of the hurricane's winds has passed and Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after landfall, heavy rains and "catastrophic flooding" are expected for days, said the National Hurricane Center.
 
"We have to remember … the families affected by flood damage in the next few days in other parts of the state will be in need of relief," said Bishop Flores. "We will assess better how we can help as we get further information about the needs from the (Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops) and Catholic Charities."
 
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, an area declared in a state of disaster.
 
In an Aug. 26 statement published by the Archdiocese, he asked for prayers "for all of those affected by the storm and in need of assistance during this natural disaster."
 
Powerful winds and heavy rainfall have impacted many lives and homes throughout Galveston-Houston, said the cardinal, and many in the southern counties of his archdiocese have already suffered substantial property damage and losses.
 
Many homes in these communities are currently without power. “Several forecasts anticipate additional storm damage and flooding in the coming days, along with high winds and tornado activity," Cardinal DiNardo said.
 
Up to 250,000 have been reported without power in Texas, a number that's expected to rise.
 
San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said in a statement that the Archdiocese pledged its support to recovery efforts that will start after the rain and wind subside.
 
"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of the dioceses of Corpus Christi and Victoria, as well as the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, as they cope with the damaging effects of Hurricane Harvey," he said. "The people of San Antonio have opened their arms to welcome evacuees of this historic hurricane, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has been assisting and will continue to assist in a variety of ways those impacted by this natural disaster."
 
Bishop W. Michael Mulvey, of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, said he was grateful to the bishops who reached out to him and to his Diocese. He said the true damage throughout the Diocese still is not known, and officials are waiting for conditions that will allow a better assessment of the damage.

In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo asked for prayers for emergency personnel and volunteers who are out and about in dangerous conditions and also "for those residing in our Archdiocese, in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, be safe, and may God have mercy on those affected by Hurricane Harvey."
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Movie review: 'All Saints'

Sincere but less than slick, the low-key, fact-based drama "All Saints" (Sony) celebrates Christian faith and family life. Believers, accordingly, will likely be inclined to overlook its artistic shortcomings.
 
Director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour recount the story of the titular Episcopal parish in Smyrna, Tenn. With its dwindling congregation down to a mere dozen, the church appears to have no future. So its new pastor, Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), arrives with orders from his superior, Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), to shut it down and sell off its property.
 
A former salesman taking up his first assignment in ministry, Michael is not disposed to question his instructions, at least at first. But the revitalizing influence of an influx of devoutly Anglican refugees from Southeast Asia -- Nelson Lee plays their leader, Ye Win -- begins to change his outlook.
 
The newcomers are Karen people, the victims of long-standing and bloody persecution by the government of their homeland, Myanmar. Partly in order to aid them, but also with an eye to rescuing All Saints, Michael launches a scheme to transform the fields around the church into a profitable farm.
 
His plan draws the support of his dedicated wife, Aimee (Cara Buono), but the steady opposition of Forrest (Barry Corbin), an ornery veteran parishioner. Other challenges come in the form of a lack of equipment and a potential drought.
 
Through the changing fortunes that follow, Michael demonstrates determination, perseverance and solidarity with the immigrants who now make up the bulk of his flock. Gomer clearly aims to inspire his audience, and "All Saints" -- despite its necessary discussion of the ill-treatment to which the Karen have been subjected -- is generally wholesome and suitable for most age groups.
 
Considered on a purely aesthetic level, however, the picture suffers from a sluggish pace and often awkward tone. Good intentions help to make up for, but cannot entirely mask, these defects. Still, patient patrons will find positive values awaiting them under the sometimes-imperfect surface.
 
The film contains mature themes, including references to atrocities and rape, and a marital bedroom scene.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
  • Published in Reviews

Bishops form new body to address 'sin of racism' that 'inflicts' nation

Saying there is an "urgent need" to address "the sin of racism" in the country and find solutions to it, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and named one of the country's African-American Catholic bishops to chair it.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, initiated the committee Aug. 23 "to focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions."

He appointed Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education, to chair the new ad hoc committee.

"Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to inflict our nation," Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement. "The establishment of this new ad hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to engaging the church and our society to work together in unity to challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons who are suffering under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to know one another as brothers and sisters."

The naming of members to serve on the new body will be finalized in coming days, the USCCB said in an announcement. It added that the committee's mandate "will be confirmed at the first meeting, expected very shortly."

"I look forward to working with my brother bishops as well as communities across the United States to listen to the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism and together find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too long," Bishop Murry said in a statement.

"Through Jesus' example of love and mercy, we are called to be a better people than what we have witnessed over the past weeks and months as a nation. Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I'm hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society."

The new ad hoc committee also will "welcome and support" implementation of the U.S. bishops' new pastoral letter on racism, expected to be released in 2018. In 1979, the bishops issued a pastoral in racism titled "Brothers and Sisters to Us," in which they addressed many themes, but the overall message then as today was "racism is a sin."

Creation of a new formal body that is part of the USCCB -- formed on the USCCB Executive Committee's "unanimous recommendation" -- speaks to how serious the U.S. Catholic Church leaders take the problem of racism in America today.

It is the first ad hoc committee the bishops have established since instituting the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in 2011 to address growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America. The federal governments mandate that all employers, including religious employers provide health care coverage of artificial contraceptives and abortifacients was one of the key issues that prompted formation of the committee.

Chaired by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, that body was elevated to full USCCB committee status during the bishops' spring assembly in Indianapolis this past June.

In addition to the Executive Committee's recommendation, the USCCB said, the decision to initiate the new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism also was made in consultation with members of the USCCB's Committee on Priorities and Plans.

The formation of the ad hoc committee also follows the conclusion of the work of the Peace in Our Communities Task Force. The task force was formed in July 2016 by then-Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who was then USCCB president. He initiated it in response to racially related shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as in Minneapolis and Dallas.

To head it he named Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, one of the nation's African-American prelates who was the first black Catholic bishop to be president of the USCCB (2001-2004).

The task force's mandate was to explore ways of promoting peace and healing around the country. Archbishop Kurtz also wanted the bishops to look for ways they could help the suffering communities, as well as police affected by the incidents.

On Nov. 14, 2016, during the USCCB's fall general assembly, Archbishop Gregory told the bishops to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism.

"A statement from the full body of bishops on racism is increasingly important at this time," said the archbishop in reporting on the work of the task force.

He said the president of the bishops' conference and relevant committees need to "identify opportunities for a shorter-term statement on these issues, particularly in the context of the postelection uncertainty and disaffection."

He also urged prayer, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, dialogue, parish-based and diocesan conversations and training, as well as opportunities for encounter.

The bishops' 1979 pastoral, now in its 19th printing, declared: "Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father."
 
  • Published in Nation
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