Church Teaching on Iraq War
A reader of my blog asked for specific Church teaching by the Pope, the Bishops, the Catechism or an Ecumenical Council on the Church's stance regarding just war as it applies to Iraq. I'll start with the general teachings and work into the specific teachings that actually mention the war in Iraq.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lays out the conditions for just war:
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:Note that the very first sentence of the paragraph, in the italics that are in the original text, states that a just war is a war of defense.
- 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 modem 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.
The ver first criteria of a just war states that the damage inflicted by the aggressor (note the past tense) must be lasting, grave and certain.
A just war must be a war of defense against an act of agression in progress. In March of 2003, Iraq was not waging an act of agression against the United States or any nation in the so-called "coalition of the willing".
Circumstantial evidence of possible terrorists ties and plausible suspicions of possession of weapons of mass destruction are not justification for war, which also must be a last resort according to the second criteria.
The invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 was far from a last resort. U.N. weapons inspectors were permitted back into the country, and all evidence indicated and still indicates that the U.N. sanctions were working to contain any threat from Saddam Hussein.
These criteria are "rigorous" and "strict conditions", meaning the Church allows no wiggle room.
This teaching is deeply rooted in the teaching laid out by an Ecumenical Council at Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes, which I invite interested readers to read in full.
What about a war for humanitarian reasons, such as removing a brutal dictator or stopping genocide?
In these cases, the Holy Father has made it plain that unilateral action is prohibited. Humanitarian missions may be assumed, but they must be accomplished by international bodies such as the United Nations. We see this in the Holy Father's January 1, 2000 Message for the Celebration of World Youth Day. Speaking specifically of humanitarian intervention, paragraph number 11 of this message states the following:
Clearly, when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defense 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.These statements clarified the intended meaning of what the Holy Father had stated earlier in Centesimus Annus in 1991, paragraph 21:
The fullest and the best use must therefore be made of all the provisions of the United Nations Charter, further defining effective instruments and modes of intervention within the framework of international law. In this regard, the United Nations Organization itself must offer all its Member States an equal opportunity to be part of the decision-making process, eliminating privileges and discriminations which weaken its role and its credibility. (Emphasis added)
Lastly, it should be remembered that after the Second World War, and in reaction to its horrors, there arose a more lively sense of human rights, which found recognition in a number of International Documents and, one might say, in the drawing up of a new "right of nations", to which the Holy See has constantly contributed. The focal point of this evolution has been the United Nations Organization. Not only has there been a development in awareness of the rights of individuals, but also in awareness of the rights of nations, as well as a clearer realization of the need to act in order to remedy the grave imbalances that exist between the various geographical areas of the world. In a certain sense, these imbalances have shifted the centre of the social question from the national to the international level.Some people saw the second paragraph as indicating that the Church was acknowledging the powerlessness and ineffectiveness of the United Nations. It was thought that the Holy Father was therefore placing no moral obligation to adhere to the United Nations.
While noting this process with satisfaction, nevertheless one cannot ignore the fact that the overall balance of the various policies of aid for development has not always been positive. The United Nations, moreover, has not yet succeeded in establishing, as alternatives to war, effective means for the resolution of international conflicts. This seems to be the most urgent problem which the international community has yet to resolve.
The Holy Father's subsequent teaching makes clear that the last sentence was intended precisely in the opposite sense. It should be read as a moral challenge to all nations. Rather than excusing us from working through the United Nations, the Holy Father was calling on all nations to work to make the United Nations more effective!
How does all of this apply to the war in Iraq? What did the Pope think of the war?
On January 13, 2003, in an address to the Diplomatic Corps after the American Congress authorized the use of force if necessary to bring weapons inspectors into Iraq in October 2002, and before President Bush declared war on March 19, 2003, the Holy Father stated the following:
"NO TO WAR"! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity. International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between States, the noble exercise of diplomacy: these are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences....,The reference to "strict conditions" is a clear call to the notion of defense outlined in paragraph 2309. The Holy Father also re-emphasized his stance that international bodies, and specifically the United Nations, have the sole authority to wage war that is not defense.
And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the Prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than twelve years of embargo? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations. (emphasis added)
What does the United Nations Charter that the Holy Father refers to say about the unilateral use of force apart from the organization itself?
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations. (Chapter One, Article 2, Number 4).Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican Secretary for the relation of states, issued a statement on February 24, 2003 referencing this U.N. law and calling unilateral war against Iraq a "crime".
As recently as September 16, 2003, Kofi Annan referred to the United States' endeavor in Iraq as an "illegal" action.
Interestingly, in his famous "NO TO WAR!" speech, the Holy Father spoke of a culture of war and a culture of peace, and then linked the culture of war to the culture of death referred to in Evengelium Vitae, which is a favorite letter of pro-life Catholics. In this letter, the Holy Father had stated the following in regards to war in general:
The twentieth century will have been an era of massive attacks on life, an endless series of wars and a continual taking of innocent human life. (EV 17)Does the Holy Father still hold the position that the war in Iraq was wrong?
Among the signs of hope [for a culture of life] we should also count the spread, at many levels of public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples, and increasingly oriented to finding effective but "non-violent" means to counter the armed aggressor. (EV 27)
On June 4, 2004, in a meeting between the Holy Father and President Bush where Bush gave the Holy Father the Medal of Freedom, the Pope stated the following:
You are very familiar with the unequivocal position of the Holy See in this regard [Iraq], expressed in numerous documents, through direct and indirect contacts, and in the many diplomatic efforts which have been made.It is true that the Pope gave mild praise to Bush's largely symbolic gestures for other life issues and the family, but it was clear to all observers that the Pope was rebuking Bush. It were as though he was politely saying, "What part of 'no to war' did you not understand?"
The Pope reiterated his opposition against the war on September 8, 2004, which can be verified here.
This had been well after Bush and Catholic neoconservative, Michael Novak, made the case for war with the Holy Father personally!
What indirect contacts and diplomatic efforts was the Holy Father referring to that formed a unequivocal position referred to in the June 4, 2004 meeting with Bush?
On September 22, 2002, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, made the following statements in an Italian newspaper that were distributed around the world about justification for war in Iraq:
the United Nations is the [institution] that should make the final decision....,Just two days before war broke out, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop Renato Martino, stated that military intervention in Iraq would be a "crime against peace".
It is necessary that the community of nations makes the decision, not a particular power...,
The concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,...,
Only six days earlier, Archbishop Martino stated that a unilateral attack on Iraq would be a "war of aggression" and clarified that "there is no aggression and so this preventive war is, in itself, a war of aggression." He went on to say that "evil cannot justify evil" in reference to the events of 9/11.
On March 6, 2003, the papal envoy to the United States, Pio Laghi had a private conversation with President Bush. Summing up his conversation for press release, he stated the following:
The Holy See maintains that there are still peaceful avenues within the context of the vast patrimony of international law and institutions which exist for that purpose. A decision regarding the use of military force can only be taken within the framework of the United Nations, but always taking into account the grave consequences of such an armed conflict: the suffering of the people of Iraq and those involved in the military operation, a further instability in the region, and a new gulf between Islam and Christianity.What did the United States' Bishops say about the war in Iraq?
I want to emphasize that there is great unity on this grave matter on the part of the Holy See, the Bishops in the United States, and the Church throughout the world.
On February 26, 2003, less than a month before the war actually began, the USCCB issued a Statement on Iraq that contained the following paragraph:
We join with Pope John Paul in the conviction that war is not "inevitable" and that "war is always a defeat for humanity." This is not a matter of ends, but means. Our bishops' conference continues to question the moral legitimacy of any preemptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq. To permit preemptive or preventive uses of military force to overthrow threatening or hostile regimes would create deeply troubling moral and legal precedents. Based on the facts that are known, it is difficult to justify resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature or Iraq's involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11. With the Holy See and many religious leaders throughout the world, we believe that resort to war would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for the use of military force.Of course, The Bishops of France had made a similar statement a month earlier on January 27, 2003.
Even earlier, the U.S. Bishops had raised serious concerns in their November 13, 2003 Statement on Iraq as well.
The Bishops of Canada were adamantly opposed to the war.
The Bishops of England Wales were less forceful on November 15, 2002, but clearly agreed that war should be avoided, and disarmament should occur through the United Nations.
In January of 2003, the Iraqi Bishops pleaded against the war!
All of this seems to point to a teaching of the universal ordinary magisterium that unilateral preventative war is objectively evil!
Those who believe that these teachings on just war were not clear prior to the era of the Bush Administration may want to read this Communio article written in 1996 outlining how the Holy Father had been advocating these principles even before the First Gulf War.
Likewise, these principles were clear enough that a layman like myself began arguing these principles in a web discussion forum in September of 2002 before the Bishops spoke out so clearly supporting the same principles!
The adherence we owe to the universal ordinary magisterium according to LG 25.2 is religious submission of mind and will - the same as the adherence due to Humanae Vitae and many other Vatican teachings.
It is important to note that Novak, Deal Hudson and Weigle and other neoconservative layity who support the war have been heard by the Holy Father, as well as Bush himself, and the Holy Father has rejected their position.
The so-called defenders of orthodoxy are not in agreement with the Holy See. I would argue that the underlying principles of just war doctrine that these neoconservatives question or reject place them in dissent!
The Roman Catholic Church was not alone is raising it's voice against the war in Iraq. At the National Council of Churches website are links to statements by several major religious bodies. Included in these links are George W. Bush's own Methodist Bishop opposing the war!
Immediately after the war began, Eastern Rite Romanian Catholic Bishop, John Michael Botean, wrote the following:
Therefore I, by the grace of God and the favor of the Apostolic See Bishop of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton, must declare to you, my people, for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin. Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the Person and Way of Jesus Christ. With moral certainty I say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just war theory.Bush tells us that we must attack even unilaterally "before a threat materializes". The Gospel admonishes us that the one who lives by the sword will die by the sword (Mt 26:52). Saint Paul tells us to conquer evil with good (Rom 12:21). Christ even admonishes us to turn the other cheek and bless our persecutors. Far from seeking rationalization for war with Iraq, Catholics should proceed with grave caution.
Thus, any killing associated with it is unjustified and, in consequence, unequivocally murder. Direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion. For the Catholics of the Eparchy of St. George, I hereby authoritatively state that such direct participation is intrinsically and gravely evil and therefore absolutely forbidden.
There is legitimate room for debate on just war in some areas. We can debate whether the use of pre-emptive strikes against an imminent attack in progress but not yet fully actualized might be justified in some instances.
Yet, there should be no doubt that a preventative war against a threat that has not materialized is an unjust war. Such a war too easily confuses defense and aggression, and is the rhetoric of terrorists and other unjust aggressors. It turns the insurgents of the attacked nation into innocent defenders!
The prudential judgment allowed state authority in determining a just war lies within the context of a war of defense. Preemptive war against a nation not posing an imminent threat and waged through a non-international body is simply not permitted under just war doctrine. Such a war kills innocent human beings.
Saying this is not what puts the troops at risk. What places the troops at risk was sending them into an unjust war in the first place!
In a representative democracy, we the people are the government. Each of us must use our own prudential judgment to weigh whether the Bush Administration has acted prudently and applied just war doctrine correctly. It is irresponsible to avoid the question by passing the buck tot he President.
As John Kerry cast his vote authorizing the President to use military force if necessary, he stated on the Senate floor:
If we do wind up going to war with Iraq, it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community, unless there is a showing of a grave, imminent--and I emphasize "imminent"--threat,....Kerry is clearly within the pale of Church teaching on this issue with his insistance on working through the international community unless we under threat of "grave, imminent" aggression, echoing the USCCB statement.
Adding to the case against the war is the recent admission by the Administration what was obvious to the rest of the world. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and no ties to Al Qaeda or the events of 9/11.
Most of the world, including myself and the leaders of the Church, already suspected there were no weapons of mass destruction or ties to Al Qaeda when the U.N. weapons inspectors found no evidence of either. The biggest moral problem with even the most well intentioned preventative war is that one could be mistaken!
This war was a distraction from the real war on terror. Many of the neoconservatives in the Administration wanted this war since the early 1990's for reasons other than a war on terror. The stubbornness of the Administration in admitting error has left it open to charges of incompetence, dishonesty and deception as it continues to try to rationalize the doctrine of preventative war, possibly in Iran or North Korea.
Many American Catholics have known that the war in Iraq is probably unjust for over a year now, but continue to support President George W. Bush because he is less pro-choice than candidate John Kerry.
Bush is pro-choice. Bush believes a woman has a right to choose an abortion in cases of rape or incest. He has clearly stated abortion will not be a litmus test for his appointments tot he Supreme Court.
In announcing his decision to spend federal monies on embryonic stem cell research, Bush referred to the unborn as "potential" human life.
Note the reasoning here. These Catholics do not support Bush because he is against all immoral direct abortions, but only because he is less pro-choice than Kerry!
Abortion is intrinsically evil, meaning no circumstance justifies it, and war can be just in some circumstances. For this reason, abortion considerations should seldom be outweighed by a politician's war policy. However, if a specific war or war policy is unjust, it becomes a right-to-life issue as Bishop Botean indicates. It is at least on par with abortion.
The President has little power to change abortion laws, but has great power over when and how we go to war. When an unjust war is waged by the state, it is not merely the moral equivalent of laws allowing abortion. Rather, it is the moral equivalent of the state mandating abortions. State authority is used to kill innocent people!
Bush is not against all immoral direct abortions, and is ultimately pro-choice!
Bush is opposed to social justice policies that have demonstrably reduced the number of abortions under Clinton!
Bush is not against all immoral embryonic stem cell research, and the American Life League claims he "undermined" their efforts to protect the sanctity of life on this issue by funding it for the first time!
Bush is not against the death penalty, but is an enthusiastic supporter of it who mocked a death row inmate the Pope had pleaded him to pardon (Karla Fay Tucker)!
Bush is silent on euthanasia.
Bush appeals to unjust hatred of gays to woo the religious right even though the President has no say on this issue anyway.
Bush opposes almost all of the Church's social justice teachings, and is running up a half trillion deficit while unemployment and poverty have climbed on his watch.
Bush has deliberately disrespected international institutions in ways contrary to the hopes of the Church to enact policies that protect the environment and to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons!
Bush believes in unilateral wars against other nations "before a threat materializes", as he has repeated numerous times verbatim in the debates!
The Bush Administration has sanctioned the use of torture and detainment without due process and these too are violations of Church teaching and basic human rights.
I believe that the evidence indicates that the neoconservatives of this Administration wanted war with Iraq to gain control of oil as far back as the end of the First Gulf War. On July 29, 2004, I posted links to the Project for the New American Century, which was Republican neoconservative think tank that included Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as members. As stated in my post, I believe the stated goals of this group are objectively evil goals.
George W. Bush could arguably be the most powerful advocate of a culture of death to ever rise to power in American politics.
The fact that this President claims to be a pro-life Christian should not mask the deeds of this Administration. When a man says he loves his wife and beats her, there is a disconnect between the words and deeds. I can't judge George W. Bush's heart, but the deeds of this Administration are contrary to almost everything I believe as a Roman Catholic.
If the candidacy of George W. Bush does not provide what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger called "proportionate reason" to consider voting for a pro-choice candidate you would not otherwise support, I don't know what would. It is true Ratzinger's letter stated the following:
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.However, note two important points on this paragraph.
First, note that Ratzinger made a clear reference to the permissibility to take up arms to repel an aggressor. He made no reference to a preventative war or to the war in Iraq. While a potentially just war might not have equal weight with abortion and euthanasia, the letter does not state that abortion and euthanasia outweigh a clearly unjust war!
Second, note that the letter offers no guidance what to do when both candidates are ultimately pro-choice. Conservative Catholics have read into the letter that we must chose the lesser of two evils considering the abortion issue alone, but the letter does not state that!
These two points feed into Cardinal Ratzinger's concluding comment:
A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.Quite clearly, we can vote for a pro-choice candidate if our reason is not support for abortion!
There are different levels we can participate in evil ranging from remote material cooperation, which is morally licit if proportionante reason exist, all the way through explicit formal cooperation with evil, which is never morally licit. I would argue that because George W. Bush is a decision maker mandating that certain innocent people die, voting for him is a more proximate material cooperation with evil than voting for John Kerry. If a vote for George W. Bush is immediate material cooperation with evil, as opposed to remote material cooperation, we must vote for Kerry or another alternative. (After the election, I wrote an extended analogy on this subject at the following link: Why I Voted for John Kerry: A Pro-Life Roman Catholic Perspective).
I believe that the vagueness in voting guidance is somewhat intentional by the Church. It seems to me that the Bishops and the Vatican are deeply troubled by Bush's policies, and also troubled by some of Kerry's stances. Yet, in the context of the Church's entire teaching on social justice, just war and peace, it seems the Vatican clearly leans away from Bush.
Perhaps this is why the USCCB voted overwhelmingly to not crack down too hard on Kerry during the election in their statement Catholics in Political Life issued July 7, 2004. The document is strongly pro-life against abortion, but stops short of denying Communion to Kerry or anyone else, and clearly states the Bishops will not be seen endorsing either candidate for President:
The polarizing tendencies of election-year politics can lead to circumstances in which Catholic teaching and sacramental practice can be misused for political ends.In debating the draft of this letter, Archbishop William J. Levada pointed out that Catholic politicians who vote pro-choice may not even be guilty of formal cooperation with evil:
Can a politician be guilty of formal cooperation in evil? If the person intends to promote the killing of innocent life, s/he would be guilty of such sinful cooperation. If such an intention were present, even a voter could be guilty of such cooperation. But this seems unlikely as a general rule. Should every Catholic politician who has voted for an unjust law favoring abortion be judged to have this intention? I hope not.Levada's point is that we cannot judge the heart without knowing the intention. The emphasis on the word "intends" is in the original text!
Subsequently, the Vatican awarded papal knighthood to a pro-choice Catholic politician named Julian Hunte (see mid-page), and the Pope has given Communion to the pro-choice former mayor of Rome (Francesco Rutelli). Obviously, the Vatican sees this issue differently than conservative Catholic laity in America want it to be seen in their rush to make Catholicism mean an automatic vote against Kerry and denial of Communion to all who think otherwise.
The Vatican coorespondant for The National Catholic Reporter, John Allen, reported on October 8, 2004's Word From Rome that his informal poll of Vatican officials would have Kerry leading 60-40!
Obviously, it is not a sin to back John Kerry over George Bush.
Am I saying it is a sin to vote for Bush?
Well, it would be for me. Each reader must prayerfully consider the full range of issues and think and pray about the issues. If your conscience tells you to vote for Bush, by all means, you must follow your conscience. Understand, however, that a good Catholic could have very good reasons to vote for almost anyone other than Bush, perhaps even including Kerry with his very problematic stances on abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
Catholics who want to truly understand the Church's position on political matters can turn to the USCCB guide which invites us to consider abortion a serious moral issue, but also to examine the candidates on the full range of moral issues. In the end, Catholics are encouraged to follow their individual consciences as they vote, and to avoid judging one another based on this act of conscience.
PEACE and Blessings!
Readers may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org