Social Doctrine of the Church: War

The Church condemns war. It asks all people to rethink war in a new way. ┬áPope John XXIII said in his encyclical “it is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era, war could be used as an instrument of peace.” (Pacem in terris, 1963). Pope Leo XIII in 1899 said war is a “scourge” and Pope John Paul II added, “it has never been and it will never be” (1991) an appropriate way of resolving problems between nations because it creates new and more complicated conflicts. Benedict XV said during World War I that it is an “unnecessary massacre” (1 August 1917). Pope Pius XII said in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, “Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war.” (Radio message 24 August 1939). Finally, Pope Paul VI so famously said in 1965 at the United Nations, “Never again some peoples against others, never again!… no more war, no more war!” (Address to the General Assembly 4 October 1965)

A war of aggression is intrinsically immoral. If attacked, leaders of States that have been attacked have the right and duty to organize a defense. The use of force of arms is legitimate only if the damage done by the aggressor is lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to the attack must be demonstrated as impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce eveil and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. This is commonly called the “just war theory” and must be considered in light of the pronouncements of the Holy Fathers mentioned above. ┬áThe Church places the burden of responsibility to determine whether these conditions exist squarely on the shoulders of those who have the responsibility for the common good.

The right to use force for legitimate self-defense is associated with the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are unable to defend themselves from acts of aggression. The use of force must protect also civilian populations from the effects of war.

In light of these teachings, one must render a judgment as the to legitimacy of the wars we are now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For a more comprehensive discussion of this topic, refer to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church nos. 497-504.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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