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Catholicism and violence; Time for some new religious thinking about war and peace

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Catholicism and violence; Time for some new religious thinking about war and peace

The Pontiff should use the intellect at his disposal to form a fully fledged doctrine

POPE FRANCIS is getting an enthusiastic reception from Catholic youngsters from all over the world as he presides over World Youth Day, a Catholic festival that actually lasts a week, in Poland. But some people are not so pleased with him. Both secularists and Christians of a more militant cast of mind than his own feel that he struck the wrong note when responding to the murder of an elderly Catholic priest in France and to other recent atrocities claimed by Islamic State. What the pontiff said, in sum, was that these ghastly deeds are symptomatic of a wider global conflict, whose root causes are not religious.

We must not be afraid to say the truth, the world is at war because it has lost peace. When I speak of war, I speak of war over interests, money, resources, not religion. All religions want peace, it’s the others who want war.

For some Christians, it was disappointing that the Pope missed an opportunity to defend the peacefulness of his own faith. In these critics’ view he should have vowed to protect his flock from violence-ridden beliefs, like those which apparently motivated the assassins of the priest. Thus Rod Dreher, a conservative American blogger, responded to the pope’s words by saying:

This is absurd. No, it’s not absurd: this is a lie. It may not be a conscious lie…but it is a dangerous untruth. He is misleading the Chistian people. One shouldn’t expect the Pope to speak like King Jan Sobieski, the “saviour” of Christendom [in 1683] from the Ottoman invaders at Vienna. But I hope that some of the fighting Polish monarch’s descendants have a few words with Francis in Poland this week.

Meanwhile Stephen Evans, campaign director of Britain’s National Secular Society tweeted that it was “asinine papal nonsense” to assert that religions, in general, wanted peace.

Perhaps it’s a mistake to focus too much energy on analysing one of the spontaneous, from-the-heart outbursts which have been a hallmark of the current papacy. And it’s also worth recalling that not even a pope would claim to see all the way into the mind of a vicious IS killer and ascertain exactly what mixture of personal or political grievance, disordered psychology or twisted metaphysical belief is at work. If Francis’s point is that even in conflicts which are notionally raged in the name of sectarian difference (like the ghastly one in Yemen, for example), economic and geopolitical ambitions are often lurking in the background, then that is certainly worth saying.

But more worthy of careful watching (because they filter down to millions of people through lectures, lessons and sermons) are the Vatican’s formal pronouncements on the subject of peace and war. The still-current Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1993, draws on church fathers like Augustine and Aquinas to formulate conditions for the legitimate use of force: the aggressor must be inflicting lasting and grave damage; other remedies must have been exhausted; there must be “serious prospects for success”; and the use of weapons must not produce evils and disorders greater than those which are targeted.

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