The traditional Catholic social teaching on the just war is coming in for criticism and revision, particularly as the war against terrorism continues.
Just war concepts, such as minimal loss of innocent lives, have traditionally served as criteria used to determine if a war can be morally engaged in and supported by the church. The Jesuit America magazine (Aug. 12-19) reports that the “growing division of the Catholic community on issues of war and peace was on clear display at the annual `Social Ministries’ meeting last winter, which was sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops and other national Catholic agencies.
There an audience of diocesan social action workers from around the country vigorously challenged the pro-just war sentiments voiced by a range of speakers.”
Increasingly coming under fire are politically conservative Catholic intellectuals whose just war teachings often approve of government force in the pursuit of justice. Drew Christiansen writes that a “cutting edge” in the debate are moderates attempting to fashion a “coherent, pro-life moral theology and in the process restricting what constitutes a just war. Another group, such as the U.S. Catholic bishops, speaks of a “presumption” against the use of force and seek to endorse non-violent alternatives before resorting to war.
Pope John Paul’s teachings and the interpretations applied to them by the clashing schools of thought stand at the heart of the intensifying debate. The pope has been a persistent voice on behalf of non-violent solutions, while allowing for “humanitarian intervention” involving force in trouble spots like Bosnia or Central Africa [although the pope also allows for a nation’s right to defend itself against terrorism, Christiansen notes.]
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