The parish Q&A box provides me and my staff colleagues with a lot of food for thought. We’re limited to 450 words of response, so I was a little concerned when I drew this two-parter, and its companion below. This answer, in slightly edited form, will appear in the parish bulletin this weekend. I started by summarizing CCC 2309 and moved on from there:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes four conditions which must be met in the traditional doctrine of “just war.”
- The damage inflicted by the aggressor … must be lasting, grave, and certain.
- All other means (of ending conflict) must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
- There must be serious prospects of success.
- (The “justified” side) cannot produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
Is modern warfare always immoral?
Some say yes. Pacifists would delete “modern” from the question and also answer in the affirmative. On the other hand some apologists for legitimate defense would suggest “everything has changed,” and that the rules of waging war must themselves be changed.
The Church uses strong language in urging responsibility on the part of leaders who wage war. The word “rigorous” is used to describe the application of the principles of “just war.” Some modern conflicts, like last century’s Cold War, or this century’s War on Terrorism, seem to slip the bounds of what war looked like in the centuries when the Church formulated principles of “just war.” It might be argued that the threat behind public rhetoric from a terrorist is less certain, say, than an army massing itself outside a castle wall with catapults and crossbows.
For a superpower, if the nuclear option escalates killing, especially the targeting of civilians, would that mean just war principle #4 is violated, and therefore any nuclear strike against civilians is immoral?
As large countries consider action against smaller foes, are we forced to consider that without the options of indiscriminate action against civilian targets (our bigger, better bombs), do our wars have serious prospects of success? We might be annoyed with a petty dictator who uses YouTube to lob insults from far away. But principle #3 holds us to a high standard: if we’re going after someone, we have to have a reasonable chance of success to eliminate the evil.
Rather than pluck out particular principles about war, my suggestion is to begin with the Catechism, 2302-2317 and read the entire section “Safeguarding Peace.” From there, check the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes sections 77-82 which summarize church teaching on “The Fostering of Peace.” And if the issue is a serious one for you personally, I suggest you read broadly among legitimate pacifists like Dorothy Day or Daniel Berrigan, from the middle path in the widely available commentaries of the popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as Catholic authors like George Weigel or Michael Novak who try to make the case that terrorists place us in situations in which “just war” principles are outdated or even dangerous.
Let us know if you come up with any great answers in your search. The world, no doubt, needs you.