Just War, 2 of 3

Just War: Week 2, edited by Father Frank Schuele

The moral conditions which must be fulfilled by a nation in resorting to the use of force as a last resort and then conducting warfare are the backbone of the just war doctrine upheld by the Church. In the U.S. bishops’ conference landmark pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response (1983), the conditions are treated in detail, including the ambiguities and questions involved in light of today’s weapons of mass destruction. The reader is led through the process of weighing the complexities and arriving at a “prudential  judgment,”  knowing  that  others  judge the matter differently. This is mature Christian morality, not a final answer from above—an example of the kind of approach which Pope Francis has been urging when it comes to moral questions such as family life and other intimate relationships. You can download the document at www.usccb.org (search Challenge of Peace).
The conditions/criteria/principles (pp. 18-19) are: I. Why and when recourse to war is permissible.

  1.  Just Cause: War is permissible only to confront “a real and certain danger,” i.e., to protect innocent life, to preserve conditions necessary for decent human existence, and to basic human rights. As both Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII made clear, if war of retribution was ever justifiable, the risks of modern war negate such a claim today.
  2. Competent Authority: In the Catholic tradition the right to use force has always been joined to the common good; war must be declared by those with responsibility for public order, not by private groups or individuals. The requirement that a decision to go to war must be made by competent authority is particularly important in a democratic society.
  3. Comparative Justice: Questions concerning the means of waging war today, particularly in view of the destructive potential of weapons, have tended to override questions concerning the comparative justice of the positions of respective adversaries or enemies. In essence: which side is sufficiently “right” in a dispute, and are the values at stake critical enough to override the presumption against war? The question in its most basic form is this: do the rights and values involved justify killing?…comparative justice stresses that no state should act on the basis that it has “absolute justice” on its side. Every party to a conflict should acknowledge the limits of its “just cause” and the consequent requirement to use only limited means in pursuit of its objectives.

Next week we will look at the rest of the moral conditions of a nation resorting to the use of force.

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