Friday, January 05, 2007

Pope John Paul II and the Iraq War

I don't understand why American Catholic Republicans are willing to excommunicate repudiate the likes of John Kerry for his stance on abortion, but not George Bush for his stance on the Iraq War. I understand the opposition to politicians who support abortion by American Catholic Republicans -- the Pope has said abortion is murder and that's pretty much the end of it. But by that exact same reasoning, American Catholics should reject George W. Bush and the prosecution of the Iraq War.

This article from the Houston Catholic Worker makes it pretty clear that Pope John Paul II opposed the Iraq War and considered it a grave sin, in no way a "just war" under Catholic doctrine:

In the weeks and months before the U.S. attacked Iraq, not only the Holy Father, but also one Cardinal and Archbishop after another at the Vatican spoke out against a "preemptive" or "preventive" strike. They declared that the just war theory could not justify such a war. Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said that such a "war of aggression" is a crime against peace. Archbishop Renato Martino, who used the same words in calling the possible military intervention a "crime against peace that cries out vengeance before God," also criticized the pressure that the most powerful nations exerted on the less powerful ones on the U.N. Security Council to support the war. The Pope spoke out almost every day against war and in support of diplomatic efforts for peace.

John Paul II sent his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, a friend of the Bush family, to remonstrate with the U.S. President before the war began. Pio Laghi said such a war would be illegal and unjust. The message was clear: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.


When I hear Catholics defending this President, I have to shake my head in disbelief. The teachings of the Church and of Christ are pretty clear on this point, and I don't understand why a Democrat who supports the right to an abortion should be reviled and opposed, but when it comes to a Republican who wages an unjust war responsible for the deaths of literally tens of thousands of people he gets full-throated, unstinting, uncritical support. It's completely inconsistent and it baffles me.

Update: Post edited to replace the word "excommunicate" in the first paragraph with "repudiate" -- as Allen pointed out in the comments, excommunicate has a very specific meaning that does not apply to a non-Catholic, I apologize for the poor initial word choice.

6 comments:

Allen said...

Jeff said: I don't understand why American Catholic Republicans are willing to excommunicate the likes of John Kerry for his stance on abortion, but not George Bush for his stance on the Iraq War.

I take your meaning and there is a bit of a double standard but, technically, the Church can't excommunicate President Bush because he's not a Catholic. The flap around Senator Kerry involved his not being allowed to receive the Host and the Blood. They can't exactly do that to a Methodist (or whatever denomination Bush belongs to.)

They could of course make a statement about the war or something -- which I guess they already did. Other than triple dog daring the president to stop his war-making, I don't know what more they could do. (Or should do.) It would be hard for the president to command the army while his tongue was frozen to a flag pole. I'm just saying...

Stuck!

Jeff Hebert said...

That's true, Allen, and a poor choice of words on my part. I should have used the word "repudiate" instead of "excommunicate" there -- I actually hesitated over it when writing this up, but I was about to be late for leaving for work and just hit Post. Haste makes waste, and bad word choice to boot.

What I meant to say was that I find it inconsistent for American Catholic Republicans to condemn John Kerrey's position on an issue their church has condemned as murder, while supporting another politician, George Bush, who also has a position on an issue their church has condemned as murder. The religion of the candidate isn't really germane, it's the rationale of the American Catholics who are voting for and supporting Bush's war that doesn't make sense to me.

Geopoet said...

I must admit as a Catholic Republican who is familiar with the "just war doctrine" that at the time of the announcement I was very, very disturbed by us going to war for the same reasons as the Pope has stated. As the doctrine indicates, if the lack of action leads to more destruction and death than going to war, then the case for justification of going to war builds creedance (albeit this is only one criteria). Which brings us to whether there were weapons of mass destruction and whether Saddam had every intention of using it against innocents, which we know he had done against the Kurds). We all know how this turned out, at least so far, but at the time most leaders were of the belief that going to war would save more lives than doing nothing. Now, Democrats looked at all the same evidence and promoted the reasons as well, lest we forget. Obviously, this is not a very easy thing to gauge (I certainly could not), but the Pope apparently still did not think going to war was justified.

Once we were over there however, the question then became, "okay we're there - what's the best thing to do now? What will lead to less deaths and a truer "peace"? I don't know if anybody can know that for sure, but most agree that pulling out too early is likely to lead to greater deaths and enslavement of innocents. So the morality needs to apply to the changing situation. Yesterday's anger about a moral decison we may not have agreed with doesn't necessarily help to ensure we're moral now or solve the current moral dilemma. Thus you will see many Catholic Republicans supporting the President's decision to only pull out when it won't lead to greater violence and innocent death and this is not inconsistent with what the Church teaches.

Finally, let's not confuse murder by aborting innocent children in the womb in the same light as killing an enemy on the battlefield. One is murder, the other is not. (With that thinking, we murdered all the Japanese on Iwo Jima.) The Church is clear on this distinction as well. In that sense, a soldier's role can be truly noble.

Finally, there are levels of moral concience that come in. At the extreme end we have violations of morality and ethics that are almost always incumbant on Catholics to avoid such as murder. At the other extreme end we have issues that are up to your own personal conciensce in terms of whether the acts are justified. Then we have a bunch of stuff in between (most things probably) in which we apply our Church's teachings, human reason, our conciensce and our moral compass in making a moral decision on any given issue or action. Some issues are closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. In the cases closest to the more absolute end, the Church gives a position and reason for guidance to us Catholics (and anyone else) to consider (such as the "just war doctrine") but will not excommunicate or ostracize its members if they use all these God-given tools and come to a different moral decision.

Morality these days would be so much easier to deal with if it were painted black or white. On the other hand, maybe it's always been that way.

Jeff Hebert said...

Thanks for the perspective, Geo. The only point I'll quibble with is "most agree that pulling out too early is likely to lead to greater deaths and enslavement of innocents." I don't think that's true, either that "most" people believe it or that it's true on the merits. I think most people (at least if you go by poll numbers favoring withdrawal and the feedback from a number of generals both on the ground and back home) believe that our continued presence there is actually causing more death and destruction, not less, and that withdrawing troops over a period of time while changing the visibility and mission of the troops still there will actually cause fewer deaths (both Iraqi and American) overall.

It's not a simple moral calculation, as you say, which makes it all the more aggravating when I keep seeing Republicans saying that Democrats are gutless, traitorous cowards for wanting to withdraw.

Under Catholic doctrine, I understand that killing an enemy combatant during a just war is not murder, but what is it during an unjust war? Is there no moral culpability on the part of those who advocate and fight in a war launched in the face of clear and unambiguous condemnation of the Vatican?

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Biblical scholar nor am I a historian familiar with the intricacies of getting into a war, "justifiable" or "unjustifiable." I do remember that Pope John Paul II was instrumental in getting down the Berlin Wall without firing a shot. He advocated and lived a life of peace and forgiveness, and I think it would've been totally out of character for this learned, holy man to advocate any type of military conflict. What Dems and Reps said before this war began is beside the point; and back then, we all wondered about the WMD's, but we were in a vengeful position after 9/11. What I am very worried about is escalation, and I have a bad feeling we're getting ready to escalate this war in the Persian Gulf. I will agree with Geo Poet on the abortion reasoning versus war. And all of the innocent people (especially the children) who are killed in these bombings are the biggest tragedies of all. What war ever leaves the innocent alone? If we are going to qualify wars as "just" or "unjust," it depends on what side of the rifle you're on. I'm sure the Germans thought they were on the right side, just as the soldiers in the Crusades thought they were doing God's work. If our troops are there in a humanitarian mode -- rebuilding, stabilizing, teaching the new government how to protect itself, providing medical care -- then we need to stay. If it's to beef up the military power, then we need to go. John Paul stood steadfast for peaceful resolutions of problems, and he did so in the face of formidible enemies. If only we had leaders like him today. What I'm hearing is people saying if we withdraw and leave these people in the lurch, then it's gutless. That's neither a Republican nor a Democratic stance. If we withdraw when the area is stable, then that's the better solution, and I doubt you'd find anyone arguing with that now that we're over there. Should we have gone? We'll never know. As a Catholic American, I detest all these wars and I wish there was a better way to end conflicts. But since Cain killed Abel, there's been killing out of envy, greed and hate. I don't see that ending. -- Denise

Adam H said...

"If we withdraw when the area is stable, then that's the better solution, and I doubt you'd find anyone arguing with that now that we're over there."


stability in the mideast? hasn't been around since "since Cain killed Abel", and with the u.s. involved, that'll just add to the death toll. i think the pope, like so many around the world, saw that this really was just the u.s. administration taking advantage of post 9/11 war fever to begin remaking the middle east in their own image. last i heard the polls showed the iraqis want us out. the military industrial complex however, is loving every second of it and is hoping we "stay the course".