Friday, May 02, 2008

Is It Dissent Against the Pope and the Church, and Downright Disobedient For a Catholic to Favor the War in Iraq?



Yet another car bombing in Baghdad, from February 2005

(AP photo)


This charge again came up from a certain radical Catholic reactionary (RadCathR). He wrote:
Who lives or dies by what someone writes on a blog? If anyone does he is an idiot. But there are people who conform their worldview to what this or that apologist writes. Consider those who remained completely in favor of the Iraq war, just as the mainstream of neo-conservative apologists were, when their hero, John Paul "superstar" condemned it? You get a situation where I, one of the late Pope's critics, agree with him, and your ever faithful apologists opposed him! Yet no claims of disobedience arose, and when confronted with it they will ignore you or say they just cut the Pope some slack by not criticizing him. Seriously, is that not private judgment? To decide that the Pope's consistent and impassioned pleas against the war have no merit because we trust our elected leaders? The same ones who enabled abortion contrary to the late Pope's message of a gospel of life?
It so happens that a few folks on the CHNI board where I work have expressed similar sentiments in the last few days. I shall paraphrase their thoughts in blue. My answer to their comments also constitute a reply to the above bogus objection.

* * * * *

Real Catholics follow the pope's advice about the avenues of diplomacy and refraining from the use of military force.

I guess I ain't a real Catholic, either, then. The issue is a lot more complex than this. Nations were granted the power of the sword in the Bible itself (Romans 13), and the Catholic Catechism (#2309) freely grants this prerogative to states. Not even the pope can override that. The Catholic Church recognizes this, and a pope can advise nations as to a prudential course of action in real world affairs, but does not have ultimate jurisdiction over them.

The Vatican pretty much speaks pacifist-type language all the time, because the pope is part "peacemaker" in his pontifical duties. It doesn't follow that there is no such thing as a justified war, or that nations can never declare war. There certainly are justified wars, and that has been the constant teaching of the Church.

I've defended the war in Iraq twice (one / two). I've argued that there is a pretty good case to be made that it is a just war as well: certainly far more than World War II was: where we carpet-bombed Dresden, fire-bombed Tokyo, burning thousands of civilians to death, treated German prisoners of war abominably in some instances, interned Japanese-Americans, denied entry of many Jewish refugees, and nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki (an action that I have vigorously condemned). Those things are indefensible according to Catholic teaching, in my opinion, and that of many many other Catholics, including the recent popes (see my many papers on that topic).

This present war hasn't involved tactics, to my knowledge, that would purposely kill (arguably murder) many thousands of unarmed civilians. In fact, with smart bombs and the like, unintended civilian casualties have been kept to a minimum unknown to virtually all of the wars in history. Thus, prominent Catholic socio-political analyst James V. Schall, S.J., wrote:
Nuclear and conventional weapons, in fact, have become so accurate, so downsized, so controlled, that all the elements of the just war theory devised by the most scrupulous moralist are in place and in operation. One might even argue that current American weaponry is constructed the way it is precisely in order to live up to just war concerns. Again, the problem is never the weapons themselves, but who uses them.
Dr. James Turner Johnson has written, similarly:
A great deal of what has been going on in the recovery of the just war way of thinking about armed force is an effort to avoid fighting another war the way World War Two was fought. Back in the early eighties I was one of the people opposing the U.S. bishops and others who were arguing against developing better targeting mechanisms on the grounds that this made war more likely. They were dead set against what they called war fighting efforts. And I was arguing, on the other hand, that at times you find yourself needing justifiably to go to war, and that at that point you'd better have weapons that enable you to fight the war justly and well. So I have been very happy with the development of PGMs-precision guided munitions. We can actually hit what we aim at using a smaller warhead that destroys the target with much less collateral damage. This strikes me as a very important moral development and certainly one I was arguing for back in the early eighties.

The U.S. military is one of the places where the just war tradition is taken most seriously today. When you take the course in ethics at West Point or at Annapolis or, at the Air Force Academy, you're given a serious collection of readings by people who write on just war. The war colleges have very knowledgeable people on their staffs who teach courses about this. They want to get professional military officers to think about these issues and figure out what they're going to do before they get into a situation that requires action. It's to socialize them in advance so that they don't have to make it up as they go along and perhaps make bad decisions because they're under great stress.
To be in favor of this war is not at all a position in dissent against the pope, because in these areas of prudential judgment of nations he is only an advisor: albeit one who should be listened to with the utmost respect. The pope also doesn't have all the secret intelligence that nations have. Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote on 5-2-03 (exactly five years ago):
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.

(Interview with Zenit on the Catechism)
The present Holy Father again wrote in June 2004:
3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
("Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion - General Principles" -- L'espresso [link] )
At the time the war began I followed in my opinion the thought of folks like Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, James Turner Johnson, and Pope John Paul II's biographer, George Weigel. For an excellent compilation of opinions on all sides of this issue, see Christopher Blosser's page, The Catholic Just War Tradition and the Iraq War. See also, an article by Robert R. Reilly: The Iraq Debate: The War Was Just. I wrote in my second defense of the war, replying to my (friendly) dialogue opponent:
Are you claiming that popes possess all the intelligence information and knowledge of terrorist and realpolitik goings-on that US Presidents (or even Senators on intelligence committees) possess?

If you say yes, I'd like to see the reasons why. If you say no, then, seeing that popes and the Church grant nations the right to render such prudential decisions, as part of their divinely ordained function, it is perfectly permissible for Presidents and those who agree with them to respectfully differ with popes' judgments. The Catechism clearly states as much, as did Pope Benedict in a quote above.

And they make such decisions based on far greater knowledge of the intricacies of these international crises and ethical dilemmas.

It's not "Pope Benedict's opinion vs. [a non-pope's] opinion."

Rather, it is:
The prudential judgment of national leaders, whose function and right is to make such judgments vs. a contrary but not binding opinion of a pope, who has far less particular information upon which to make such a judgment, being a spiritual, not a political leader.
It is showing no disrespect whatsoever to differ in such a way. If I, for example, allow my children to have a different opinion from mine on some issue we are talking about, where I could just as easily have "pulled rank" and disallowed them to have a dissenting opinion, they neither violate the command to "honor thy parents" nor necessarily disrespect me in a dissent.

. . . Even the sublime authority of popes does not wipe out all possible dissenting positions in good faith, by Catholics and leaders of nations, obliged to make serious decisions about war and the protection of the innocent and the furthering of justice and rescuing of the oppressed and downtrodden.
So a "real Catholic" has every right to disagree with even popes' opinions in matters of war, as long as the war is not manifestly opposed to Catholic principles of just war altogether. Pope Benedict XVI said so. Catholic bishops and popes enthusiastically supported World War II, despite the clearly immoral and indefensible actions that the allies eventually took. The present war is not nearly as ethically indefensible on the whole as the things that were done by "the good guys" in World War II. This is the difficulty in taking a dogmatic stand against it: such a person, it seems to me, would have to say World War II was also indefensible (not to mention Vietnam).

The pope doesn't have all the intelligence information that the United States has. So he proclaims on these matters with less information, which could quite possibly make a huge difference in the overall equation. But popes in recent years make "peacemaking" statements in rather automatic fashion. It's great that they do so: war is always a last resort, for sure. But these do not rule out all wars. Pope Benedict XVI made that very clear in my citation of his, above.

Will the war against the terrorists ever end?

That's tough to say at this point. The Cold War went for some 54 years. We're still on the border of North and South Korea after 55 years. This is how the real world is. Evil people don't lay down and die and cease being evil or having designs on others' properties and countries.

This war is against Catholic social teachings regarding war and peace.



That doesn't follow at all, as I have shown. As I said, if favoring this particular war means one is not a "real" Catholic, then count me among the fakers, along with Fr. Neuhaus, Weigel, Novak, Fr. Schall, et al. If you want to make such a strong statement, then at least back it up, as I have done. Don't just operate on political rhetoric that you have heard, because you are calling into question the good faith status of fellow Catholics. That is important to clarify on this board, since it has come up. New Catholics need to better understand how the Church approaches various issues, and the latitude she allows in some instances. It's not always either/or or black and white, as in so much of Protestantism.

As to casualties, all wars involve those. There is hardly anything we can do about that. We can try to reduce casualties to a bare minimum, though, as has been the case in the Gulf War and the present one. The Vietnam War had a casualty rate about eight times higher than this war, and its cause (and execution in tactics and strategy) was far less justified, in my opinion. Nothing was even accomplished in the end, whereas in the present war we have dislodged a tyrant, disrupted terrorist networks and activities, and have introduced political democracy into a major Middle Eastern nation. There have been many serious attempts to square this war with just war theory (see my links above). It's mighty tough to do that with regard to nuking 100,000 civilians at Hiroshima, though.

George W. Bush and his brother Jeb have also freely exercised the death penalty, too, against the will of the Church.

As the pope noted above, Catholics in good standing can differ on the death penalty. I happen to think that it is a wise policy to oppose it, and agree with Pope John Paul II, but on the other hand, we mustn't get legalistic when it is not an absolute requirement to oppose the death penalty. I continue to favor it in instances of mass murderers and terrorists, in the face of overwhelming evidences of guilt.

The neocons also err in recourse to torture to get the bad guys to talk.

I'm one of these (what you call) "neocons" (more or less) and I am on record opposing all torture, including waterboarding). At the same time, I recognize that there are extraordinary complexities in the discussion, and sometimes no easy answers.

Who will you vote for in November: those of you who don't like the war in Iraq? If the war is so terrible and indefensible, in your opinion, that rules out McCain. I assume you (as a good Catholic or pro-life Protestant) won't vote for a pro-abort. So what do you do? Refuse to vote? If many do that, it would almost certainly mean a Democrat victory, which may mean a quick exit from Iraq, but also quick exits from the womb and from this world, for those additional babies who will be butchered by abortionists, and the Supreme Court could be pro-abort for another generation if a few good Justices are replaced by child-killing advocates.