The Pope Isn’t A Pacifist

by Dish Staff

In light of Pope Francis’ comments about ISIS this week, Christopher J. Hale explains why:

[F]or those who know the intricacies of Catholic moral teaching, Francis’s openness to military intervention in Iraq makes perfect sense. For 1500 years, the Church has promoted the teaching of St. Augustine: that there can be no true peace without justice. This ancient teaching has crystallized into the Church’s modern day just war principle, which holds that nations only ought to enter into military campaigns against unjust aggressors as a last resort and only in limited scope and circumstances.

Under that paradigm, does the current situation in Iraq merit such a military response? Pope Francis isn’t ruling it out. Now contrary to the absurd claim by Vox’s Max Fisher, Pope Francis isn’t calling for the tenth crusade against the Middle Eastern people. Instead, he’s proposing a clear-eyed response to a critical crisis.

Ed Morrissey also has a column detailing Catholic just war doctrine and how it applies to the situation in Iraq. In a follow-up, he summarizes why he’s almost, but not quite, a pacifist either:

I’m not arguing that Jesus would applaud a military intervention anyway. Pacifism is, and should be, the first impulse of the Christian, and the second and third impulse as well.We are called to prayer and to make peace — when peace is possible.

What Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in its Catechism argue is that war should be a last resort, and that it should be fought with “as much humility and restraint as possible.” My column points out what Francis meant, and why a fight to stop ISIS fits within the paradigm presented in Catholic teaching.

That’s why the Just War doctrine exists at all — to distinguish between wars of necessity and wars of choice. War is a result of a fallen world, which Christ offered salvation to those who accept it of their own free will. But the fallen world remains, and with it difficult moral choices as to the proper use of power for the good of humanity. Most wars are fought over petty concerns over territory, power, or even ideology, but some of those in the latter category involve such intrinsic evil with which it is impossible to negotiate or allow to continue unabated. Leaving victims to die at the hands of evil sadists and standing on the sidelines while entire populations get erased or sent into slavery is a choice, yes, but it’s not one compatible with Christian teaching either.

Brandon Ambrosino adds:

After Francis affirmed the Church’s doctrine of just war, he quickly noted how that doctrine has been abused many times in the past and can be abused again. “How many times under this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor the powers [that intervened] have taken control of peoples, and have made a true war of conquest?”

Francis recognizes the necessity of stopping an unjust aggressor, but he also recognizes that this same sort of logic has at times been abused as a justification for domination. (For instance, yes, the Crusades.) To prevent the principles of Catholic just war doctrine from being abused, Francis thinks the decision for when and how to engage in war must not be left up to one isolated power: “One nation alone cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor.”