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“Relevant Public Authorities”?

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).

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