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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

3 popes’ close bond to Fatima

Recent popes have had a special affection for Our Lady of Fatima, but no pope’s connection can match that of St. John Paul II.
 
“We cannot forget that he was saved by Our Lady of Fatima from the assassination attempt here in St. Peter’s. This is fundamental and central. It is never forgotten,” Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, told Catholic News Service.
 
Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, shot Pope John Paul at close range as the pope was greeting a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981.
 
Two bullets pierced the pope’s abdomen, but no major organs were struck; a bullet had missed his heart and aorta by a few inches.
 
St. John Paul would later say, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path.”
 
That miracle, the cardinal said, is key in “understanding well Pope John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.”
 
Given the date of the assassination attempt, the pope specifically credited Our Lady of Fatima with his miraculous survival and recovery. Several months later, he visited the site of the apparitions, the first of three visits he would make as pope to Fatima.
 
For St. John Paul, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said, “Our Lady of Fatima was everything,” and his three visits to the Portuguese town were those of a grateful son to the mother who saved his life.
 
“I still remember — I’ll never forget it — when he arrived at the little chapel of the apparitions where (the statue of) Our Lady of Fatima was,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins recalled.
 
St. John Paul was holding one of the bullets that had struck him and slowly approached the statue, finally placing the bullet in her crown, he said. “It is still in the crown today. I witnessed these gestures, how he expressed his devotion to Our Lady. He would just walk closer and closer to Our Lady and would repeat: ‘You saved me, you saved me.'”
 
As the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes from 1998 to 2008, Cardinal Saraiva Martins also oversaw the process leading to the beatification by St. John Paul of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three young shepherd children, who saw Mary at Fatima.
 
The cardinal also shared a personal friendship with the third seer, Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, who died in 2005.
 
It was Cardinal Saraiva Martins who, two years after Sister Lucia’s death, urged Pope Benedict XVI to waive the five-year waiting period before her sainthood cause could be opened.
 
“The pope was very kind. He said, ‘Yes, you know more about this than I do. We will do as you say,'” the cardinal recalled.
 
Pope Benedict, the cardinal added, was a “great devotee” of Our Lady of Fatima, even before his election to the papacy.
 
Interviewed in his apartment near St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Saraiva Martins grabbed a copy of part of the interview then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did in 1985 with Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist.
 
“Before becoming pope, he said: ‘A stern warning has been launched from that place … a summons to the seriousness of life, of history, to the perils that threaten humanity,'” the cardinal read.
 
The special papal bond with Our Lady of Fatima continues today with Pope Francis, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was a frequent visitor to a shrine devoted to her, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said. Pope Francis will visit Fatima May 12-13 to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions.
 
The cardinal recalled Pope Francis’ “beautiful” words to Portuguese-speaking pilgrims on May 13, 2015, the 98th anniversary of the apparition: “Entrust to her all that you are, all that you have, and in that way you will be able to become an instrument of the mercy and tenderness of God to your family, neighbors and friends.”
 
“This an example of the words of Pope Francis, so he is a great devotee of Fatima,” the cardinal said. “And for this reason, he will go to Fatima. For him, it will be an extraordinary day in which he will fulfill this great desire that has been expressed in so many ways.”
 
Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is emblematic of the popes of the last century who have “always recognized” the relevance of Mary’s message, particularly its emphasis on faith, conversion, hope and peace, the cardinal said.
 
“Today we need faith, to be closer to God and our brothers and sisters — not hate each other — we need hope and we need peace,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins said. “In short, the message of Fatima given 100 years ago is of extreme relevance.”
 
  • Published in World
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