FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Did the Vatican Just Throw Out Its Just War Doctrine?

by

Last week, the Vatican hosted a conference on the theme of “Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence,” organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace along with the global Catholic peace network Pax Christi International. In their concluding appeal to Pope Francis, the 80 conference participants recommended that he reject Just War Doctrine as a viable or productive Catholic tradition. They also recommended that he write a new encyclical laying out the Catholic Church’s commitment to nonviolence in all of its manifestations—including nonviolent action as a means of engaging in conflict, nonviolent conflict resolution as a way of resolving conflict, and nonviolence as the principle doctrine of the Catholic Church.

If such an encyclical follows, this is a big deal. The just war tradition—which contains numerous doctrines morally justifying violence and war, as well as defining appropriate conduct during war—has served for the past 1500 years as the primary normative basis politicians have evoked (correctly or incorrectly) to validate their waging of war. Because the Catholic Church developed the doctrine between the 4th and 13th centuries, the just war canon has had a monopolistic influence on the way people in the West think about war and violence—whether they know it or not. Consequently, many people now take for granted concepts like the right to self-defense, the importance of weighing the goals of war against its potential human costs, the need to exhaust other options before going to war, and the necessity of only fighting wars you think you can win. Whether you’re the President of the United States in D.C., a police officer on the beat in Denver, or a student in a self-defense class in L.A., these moral concepts have probably had a deep impact on your thinking and your experience when it comes to the proper uses of violence.

Conference participants acknowledged the main sticking point for many skeptics of nonviolence—that promoting (or using) nonviolence can be difficult in the face of armed aggression. Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International and a participant at the conference, claimed that the group fully considered this challenge. Yet she argued that the international community hasn’t yet devoted resources to developing or discovering nonviolent alternatives to armed aggression because of our reflexive turn to violence as the only possible response. In her words, “as long as we keep saying we can do it with military force, we will not invest the creative energy, the deep thinking, the financial and human resources in creating or identifying the alternatives that actually could make a difference.”

So—why is the Catholic Church reconsidering now? Reporter Terrence Lynne argues that there are five primary reasons for this—among them the fact that contemporary weapons of war render obsolete any positive impacts that war might have; and what he calls “the compelling, thrilling saga of nonviolent action over the 60 years since Gandhi.” Indeed, among the arguments Pope Francis used to encourage the conference participants was the dramatic rise in the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance over the past century—a trend we hear a lot around the halls of the Korbel School. In fact, one of the participants in this landmark conference was my colleague Maria J. Stephan, whose work on civil resistance in a variety of struggles around the world helped to provide a strong empirical basis for this conference.

How’s that for engaged scholarship?

More articles by:

Erica Chenoweth is Professor & Associate Dean for Research | Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of DenverOriginally published at Political Violence at a Glance, republishing permitted.

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail