'Relevant Public Authorities'?

October 2006

We get many, many letters intent on defending the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- by far the most letters on any topic. We do find this odd. Obviously, we can't print all of them, but if we only print a smattering of them, people will think we can't defend ourselves. And when we reply, we realize that it irritates many of our readers.

So here is another one from Peter Skurkiss of Stow, Ohio:
George Weigel, writing in First Things (Aug./Sept. 2006), poses an interesting question. He asks, "that John Paul II for all his manifest opposition to the use of military force [in Iraq] in March 2003, never used the word unjust to describe what subsequently unfolded. Why?"

Weigel speculates that JPII must have believed that "the final responsibility for making a moral assessment of the situation through the prism of just-war thinking lay with the relevant public authorities," which in this case was George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress -- not the United Nations or the editors of the NOR.

And the thought that the war in Iraq is not unjust gets additional credence when Weigel notes that he shared private time dialoguing with JPII after the start of the war and during that time, and the Pope never once admonished or challenged Weigel for his writing that claimed the war was not "unjust." How much private time have the editors of the NOR spent with JPII to learn his thinking? None.

As to Pope Benedict XVI, his comment that "the concept of preventative war does not appear in the Catechism" is hardly proof that he thinks the war is unjust. There are a lot of things that aren't in the Catechism.
Our reply: Weigel can't even quote the Catechism correctly. The decision to wage war does not rest with "relevant public authorities," but with "those who have responsibility for the common good" (#2309). In a democracy, we all have responsibility for the common good. In a dictatorship, the dictator has exclusive responsibility for the common good, but even then a Catholic may resist a dictator's war -- surely a Catholic would want to resist a Hitler's wars. Indeed, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) deserted Hitler's army. The Catechism defines the "common good" when it comes to unjust laws and wars: "Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order [which includes waging unjust wars], such arrangements would not be binding in conscience" (#1903; italics added).

Whether it is a dictatorship or a democracy, the nation-state is never the final authority for a Catholic. As the Code of Canon Law says: "The Church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls" (Can. 747, #2). Wars are always about "moral principles." And the taking of human life, whether in abortion or unjust wars, always violates "fundamental human rights," and could affect one's salvation.

When Weigel says that the "final authority" for war rests with the "relevant public authorities," then all wars are "just," because presidents, dictators, and war-planners will always consider their wars to be "just." Moreover, as for "relevant public authorities," William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative's conservative, has called the Bush Administration's foreign policy in Iraq incompetent: "If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign" (CBSNews.com, July 22).

Weigel says he talked privately to Pope John Paul II. But we haven't heard John Paul's side. John Paul, of beloved memory, is dead, and he can't speak for himself. How convenient! We relied on the spoken and written words of John Paul, which cannot be misunderstood.

The Church has her Just War doctrine. One of the criterion (and all criteria must be fulfilled) for a just war is that it be a "last resort." It cannot be a "war of choice." Only four days before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Pope John Paul (once again) appealed to the Just War doctrine of "last resort," adding that "there is still time to negotiate." How right he was!

In his 2002 Christmas message, the Pope condemned preventive war, which the war on Iraq was. Preventive war is not a morally legitimate grounds for war in Just War doctrine. Earlier, in mid-September 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger said that "The concept of preventive war does not appear in the Catechism," and therefore he opposed the invasion of Iraq. Preventive wars are automatically unjust.

A preventive war is an attack initiated on the basis of the possibility of an attack by a potential foe sometime in the future. The Catechism says that a war must be for "legitimate defense" (#2309), that is, self-defense. A preventive war is not for self-defense. Under the criterion of "just cause," the "damage inflicted…must be lasting, grave, and certain" (#2309). If there is just a possibility of an attack, it is not "lasting, grave, and certain." Possibility contradicts certainty. Preventive wars are ruled out because they fail to meet the criteria of "just cause" and "last resort." Skurkiss is wrong that Benedict's opposition to preventive war is "hardly proof" that the war in Iraq is unjust. It is absolute proof, and that's why then-Cardinal Ratzinger said so and opposed the war on Iraq. Maybe there are "a lot of things that aren't in the Catechism," as Skurkiss says, "but Just War doctrine is in the Catechism.

Failing to meet just one criterion in Just War doctrine makes a war unjust. With regard to Iraq, John Paul II named two -- "just cause" and "last resort" -- and that makes the war on Iraq unjust, shall we say, in spades. He didn't need to explicitly say that the war is unjust. It's self-evident. We note that Weigel said that John Paul "never used the word unjust to describe what subsequently unfolded." Subsequently unfolded? That's a dodge. What subsequently unfolded does not turn an unjust war into a just war. Actually, it's the opposite. Many people who thought the war was just have now concluded that the war is unjust. Indeed, the new Secretary of State for the Holy See, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, said in an Italian Catholic magazine (Jul./Aug. 2006) that "the current situation in Iraq shows how prophetic [the Holy See's] judgment was" (Catholic News Service, Aug. 9).

As for "the pope never once admonished and challenged Weigel for his writings that claimed the war as not ‘unjust'": Not mentioned by Skurkiss is that Weigel (in First Things) speculates that the Pope "did not wish to put a burden of conscience on Catholic members of coalition armed forces…." That could be why he did not wish to put a "burden of conscience" on Weigel. In his 2004 autobiography, Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, John Paul admitted that he was perhaps too lax in governing the Church. Said he: "I think that in this aspect [disciplining Catholics], maybe I have done too little." Just as there were no moral sanctions for participating in an unjust war in Iraq (and just as there were no moral sanctions for Catholics participating in Hitler's wars), under John Paul for 26 years there were few moral sanctions for breaking any of the doctrines and precepts of the Catholic Church. John Paul issued documents, but they were rarely enforced; but he had other strengths.

We make bold to say: If you are anti-war and pro-choice (i.e., pro-abortion), and you won't recognize that you are making war against the baby in the womb, you are not really anti-war; and if you are prolife (i.e., anti-abortion) and you won't recognize that the war on Iraq is unjust, you are not really prolife. Abortion and unjust wars are basically immorally equivalent.

DOSSIER: Neocons & Neoconservativism

New Oxford Notes: October 2006

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