God only knows if the U.S. will launch a military strike against Syria, but it looks like the threat has been averted for now.
As negotiations aimed at convincing Syria to surrender its chemical weapons continue, Catholics may be asking what the Church teaches about an attack. Would it be justified?
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has spoken quite a bit on the subject of war. At last week’s prayer vigil for peace in Syria, he said:
…look upon your brother’s sorrow, and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: ‘No more one against the other, no more, never! … war never again, never again war!’
‘Never again war’ probably would be most people’s desire, but are there times when an armed conflict is morally permissible such as in the case of self-defense or to avoid a greater evil?
Conditions for Just War
The Church holds that there are strict conditions requiring rigorous consideration for legitimate defense by military force. The Catechism states, “the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy.” (CCC 2309)
The conditions are laid out in the Catechism as part of just war theory, developed by St. Augustine and later by St. Thomas Aquinas. According to this theory about acts of war, at one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (CCC 2309)
According to the Catechism, those with responsibility for the common good in their “prudential judgment” are to evaluate these conditions.
Resolve conflicts together
Since the US government’s potential action would not be for its own defense and because it could act together with other nations, the Church says that such international or regional organizations “should be in a position to work together to resolve conflicts and promote peace, re-establishing relationships of mutual trust that make recourse to war unthinkable,” according to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
The best outcome of this crisis would be for our leaders to continue their current talks and reach a peaceful solution. If they exhaust that possibility, hopefully they will follow the tenets of just war theory in making any decision on the matter.
At Vatican II the Church Fathers left no doubt about their hopes regarding war:
Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until the coming of Christ; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and they will make these words come true: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Gaudium et Spes 78)