The purpose of this blog post is to provide select links, quotes, and information to help people understand the Catholic view of military action when used to protect minorities from ISIS.
Like everything I write, it is in the public domain. All or any portion may be reprinted without asking for permission.
The traditional Catholic view of the ethical legitimacy of war is called “Just War Theory”. The name "Just War" is quite old, and it should not be taken to mean that Catholics believe war is ever a good thing.
Under Just War Theory, military intervention is rarely acceptable. However, in the case of ethic cleansing or genocide, and in some other cases, Catholic thinking is more supportive of the use of military force than is usually the case.
The standard for determining when military intervention is ethical is somewhat philosophical, and different Catholics will have different opinions on this issue in general, as well as in the specific context of ISIS. Indeed, Just War Theory exists in various forms, not only in its Catholic form. The underlying principles date back to the Greek and Roman philosophers such as Plato and Cicero, as well as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Changes in the means of warfare and the present global situation may all be taken into consideration in applying the underlying ethical concerns to a present day situation.
The issue turns on both the philosophical analysis and also on one's understanding of the facts. In the present situation in Iraq, it is both necessary to consider the ethical principles and also to determine what is really true and what is merely rumor. For example, following many reports of "catastrophe" and of ISIS genocide of Christians and Yizidis, Patriarch Sako has told La Croix that the worst of the stories have been unfounded rumors. While about 200,000 people (half of them Christians) have been forced to flee their homes with nothing under death threats, only one Christian death has been confirmed. That one death occurred amid tension at a checkpoint. The stranded Yizidis, on the other hand, have encountered life-threatening conditions.
LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION ON JUST WAR THEORY IN GENERAL(Historical and Present Day - Not Specifically Catholic):
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
BBC: Ethics: Just War – Introduction
LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CATHOLIC JUST WAR THEORY:
EWTN: “What Is Just War?”https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/just_war.htm
Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Safeguarding Peace”: Sections 2302 -2317
SELECT QUOTES AND SOURCES ON CATHOLIC JUST WAR THEORY:
Catechism of the Catholic Church Section 2309:
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. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
Pope John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace, January 1, 2000:
Clearly, when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defence prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor. These measures however must be limited in time and precise in their aims. They must be carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized and, in any event, never left to the outcome of armed intervention alone.
“Gaudium et Spes” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) promulgated by Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965, Section 79:
Certainly, war has not been rooted out of human affairs. As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted. State authorities and others who share public responsibility have the duty to conduct such grave matters soberly and to protect the welfare of the people entrusted to their care. But it is one thing to undertake military action for the just defense of the people, and something else again to seek the subjugation of other nations. Nor, by the same token, does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun mean that all is fair between the warring parties.
An interview with then Cardinal Ratzinger May 2, 2003, in which he discussed Pope John Paul II’s opposition to the 2003 U.S. war in Iraq:
Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?
Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.
The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."
“Called Together to Be Peacemakers: A Report of the International Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Mennonite World Conference” August 2003, Sections 157, 159:
157. The Catholic tradition today upholds both a strong presumption against the use of force and an obligation to resist the denial of rights and other grave public evils by active nonviolence, if at all possible (cf. Rom 12:14-21; 1 Thess 5:14f.). All Catholics bear a general obligation to actively resist grave public evil. Catholic teaching has increasingly endorsed the superiority of non-violent means and is suspect of the use of force in a culture of death. Nonetheless, the Catholic tradition also continues to maintain the possibility of a limited use of force as a last resort (the Just War), particularly when whole populations are at risk as in cases of genocide or ethnic cleansing. . . .
159. The Just War today should be understood as part of a broad Catholic theology of peace applicable only to exceptional cases. War, as Pope John Paul II has said, “is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations.”158 The Pope’s overall assessment of the evils of war made at the end of the 1991 Gulf War remains valid today:
“No, never again war, which destroys the 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.”
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to Pope John Paul II, June 29, 2004, Section 504:
The right to use force for purposes of legitimate defence is associated with the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression. In modern conflicts, which are often within a State, the precepts of international humanitarian law must be fully respected. Far too often, the civilian population is hit and at times even becomes a target of war. In some cases, they are brutally massacred or taken from their homes and land by forced transfers, under the guise of “ethnic cleansing”, which is always unacceptable. In such tragic circumstances, humanitarian aid must reach the civilian population and must never be used to influence those receiving it; the good of the human person must take precedence over the interests of the parties to the conflict.
QUOTES ON THE CATHOLIC VIEW OF MILITARY INTERVENTION TO DEFEND AGAINST ISIS:
Pope Francis' Comments During an In-Flight Press Conference from Korea to Rome, August 18, 2014:
Your Holiness, my name is Alan Holdren, I work for Catholic News Agency, ACI Prensa in Lima, Peru, and EWTN. As you know, United States military forces have just begun to bomb terrorists in Iraq in order to prevent a genocide, to protect the future of minorities – I’m also thinking of the Catholics in your care. Do you approve of this American bombing?
Thank you for your very clear question. In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I emphasize the word: “stop”. I’m not saying drop bombs, make war, but stop the aggressor. The means used to stop him would have to be evaluated. Stopping an unjust aggressor is licit. But we also need to remember! How many times, with this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor, the powers have taken over peoples and carried on an actual war of conquest! One nation alone cannot determine how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there was the idea of the United Nations: that is where discussion was to take place, to say: Is this an unjust aggressor? It would seem so. How do we stop him?” This alone, nothing else. Second, minorities. Thanks for using that word. Because people say to me: “the Christians, the poor Christians…” And it is true, they are suffering, and martyrs, yes, there are many martyrs. But there are also men and women, religious minorities, not all Christians, and all are equal before God. To stop an unjust aggressor is a right of humanity, but it is also a right of the aggressor to be stopped in order not to do evil.
Pope Francis' Letter to the United Nations, August 13, 2014:
The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes. The tragic experiences of the Twentieth Century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.
Vatican Radio article, August 13, 2014, giving an explanation of Pope Francis's letter to the United Nations from Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva:
Arcbishop Tomasi notes that while Pope Francis does not specify exactly what action should be taken in Iraq, he does give some indication of his thoughts when he refers in his letter to the juridical norms governing the United Nations . . . . In the various articles making up the Charter, Archbishop Tomasi notes, it is foreseen “that there might be occasions in the life and in the relations between states when dialogue, negotiations, fail and large numbers of people find themselves at risk: at risk of genocide, at risk of having their fundamental, their basic human rights violated. In this case, when every other means has been attempted, article 42 of the Charter of the United Nations becomes possible justification for not only imposing sanctions of economic nature on the state or the group or the region that violates the basic human rights of people, but also to use force. All the force that is necessary to stop this evil and this tragedy.”
Christian Mellon, S.J.,, member of the Center for Research and Social Action (“CERAS”), France (As quoted in an article titled “Pourquoi le Vatican considère-t-il qu’une intervention militaire en Irak est « nécessaire » ?”, La Croix, August 11, 2014, my unofficial translation):
It is true that, according to the "Just War Doctrine", i.e. the position traditionally held by the Catholic Church on the ethical legitimacy of war, military intervention is rarely legitimized. But it is in the case of ethnic cleansing or genocide, and more generally when ‘civilian populations are likely to succumb under the blows of an unjust aggression’, as Pope John Paul II said to the Diplomatic Corps on January 16, 1993, during the tragic events in Bosnia.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, as quoted by Vatican Radio, August 11, 2014:
I think, in the long run, what is needed is a dialogue of reconciliation and the acceptance of diversity in the different political and cultural contexts of the Middle East, so that a person is considered a citizen with equal rights and equal duties for the states, free to associate with other people who are of the same faith without being catalogued as a minority.
At this moment, we hope the voice that is surging from different Christian and religious communities, from moderate Muslims, from people of good will around the world, may find the response of concrete humanitarian assistance that is provided for the Christians in northern Iraq as well as some political and even effective military protection.
Patriarch Louis Rafael Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, according to an article in Zenit, August 11, 2014:
Although the churches are doing all they can, he said more must be done by others. President Obama's decision to only give military assistance to protect Erbil "is disappointing,” he said, as they are not going to attack the IS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain.
Although Obama has said he is interested in preventing the Islamist militants from establishing a caliphate in Iraq, many await concrete military and humanitarian action.
Despite an increasing number of US air strikes, many claim the operation is insufficient to destroy Islamist extremist forces.
“Nuncio to Iraq: Iraqi Christians Give Great Faith Witness”, Vatican Radio, August 10, 2014:
Archbishop Lingua also addressed the question of renewed US military involvement in the country. “Now the American aviation has begun to [strike Islamic State positions and military assets]: this is something that had to be done, otherwise [the IS] could not [be] stopped,” he said. “But,” he continued, “we should wonder why we have arrived at this point: was it not a lack of intelligence? Were we not able to understand what was going on? And then: who gave to these [IS fighters] such sophisticated weapons?
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Declaration, August 12, 2014:
All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have? Religious leaders are also called to exercise their influence with the authorities to end these crimes, to punish those who commit them and to reestablish the rule of law throughout the land, ensuring the return home of those who have been displaced.
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR THE NEWS MEDIA AND WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT:
The Press Office of the Holy See
Via della Conciliazione 54
00120 Vatican City State
Telephone: +39 06 698921
Telefax: +39 06 6868810
Abp. Giorgio Lingua
Apostolic Nunciature of Iraq
P.O. Box 2090, Saadoun Street 904/2/46, Baghdad, Iraq
Phone: +964-1 71.82.083
Abp. Silvano Maria Tomasi
Holy See Representative to the United Nations, Geneva
16 Chemin du Vengeron, C.P. 28, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland
Phone: +41 22.758.98.20
Jean-Louis Pierre Cardinal Tauran
President, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
00193 Roma, Via della Conciliazione, 5
Patriarch Louis Rafael Sako
Patriarcat Chaldeen Catholique
P.O. Box 6112, Al-Mansour, Baghdad, Iraq