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Catechism fails to convey pope's passion for peace.

OXFORD, England - Pope John Paul II misses no opportunity to extol The Catechism of the Catholic Church already available in French and Italian.

He told the Welsh bishops on their ad limina visit that it was "a gift of untold value from the |Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of change' "(James 1: 17).

Together with the reformed liturgy and the 1983 Code of Canon Law, it "constitutes the firm foundation of the ecclesial renewal which the Council initiated."

However, addressing the Dutch bishops, John Paul assigned it a more partisan purpose. He said it would "reassure and strengthen the faithful who were disoriented by the theological ferment of recent years and will bring back to the genuine sources of faith those who were led astray by false prophets."

The 15 bishops who worked on the draft of the catechism have praised it in similar language. In a muddled metaphor, David Konstant, bishop of Leeds, England, declares it has "the potential to be a framework, a signpost, an anchor and a source of growth in faith."

Eric D'Arcy, archbishop of Hobart, Australia, is even more effusive: "As one reads it, one seems to become more and more conscious of the |scarlet thread' running through the whole interwoven tapestry. ... Every truth, every reflection, every illustration seems gently and more deeply to take one into the sure hand of God's providence at work in the unfolding of human life and the development of human hope, which was indeed in the secret heart of God before all the ages."

Whew! Even St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica was never so extravagantly praised.

Now all these remarks were all made in advance of the English-language publication. Does the catechism justify all the hopes invested in it? Can it bear the hype?

One way to test its cash value is to see what it has to say about war and peace, a topic of immediate and indeed urgent relevance. I have now read the French translation - the original if not the authoritative text. What it has to say comes under the heading of the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill."

In the main, the text hews close to the conciliar constitution, Gaudium et Spes. War, alas, has not yet been eliminated from human history.

Therefore, "so long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every peaceful means has been exhausted."

As the Italian section of Pax Christi has pointed out, this ignores the changes that have taken place since the council. It overlooks the changing role of the United Nations, seen not just as a potential military force but also as a peacemaking instrument of a moral and juridical nature.

Consequently, the catechism does not discuss the "right of interference," which has become the moral issue in the past 12 months. It offers no criteria for distinguishing among "humanitarian" missions backed by force, halfhearted interventions (as in Bosnia) and selective military strikes to punish the nonimplementation of some U.N. resolutions (against Iraq) while others (against Israel) are flouted.

Nor does it consider the possibility, envisaged by John Paul himself on the eve of the Gulf War, that one superpower might hijack the United Nations for its own ends. Hegemony was his word for it.

Having assumed that nation-states are the only players on the international scene, the catechism then summarizes the classic conditions for the "just war": grave damage inflicted by the aggressor; all other means of settling the dispute exhausted; serious prospect of success; proportionality, that is, "that the use of arms should not entail evil and disorder greater than the evil to be eliminated."

On proportionality it adds a caveat: "The power of modern weapons of destruction weighs very heavily in the appreciation of this last condition."

No doubt. But this warning seems rather feeble in view of John Paul's remarks during the Gulf crisis. The nature of modern weapons was such, he said, that the requirements of "proportionality" and "discrimination" could not be met.

The remedying of one injustice (the invasion of Kuwait) would result in fresh injustices. It would have unpredictable "ecological, political and economic consequences" that could not be justified.

Odd that the catechism, which quotes John Paul 145 times, omits all reference to what he had to say during the Gulf crisis. Yet, at the time, this was widely considered to be the most important development of the magisterium since the Vatican Council.

The next five pithy paragraphs can be quoted as they stand: "The appreciation of whether these conditions for moral legitimacy obtain belongs to the prudential judgment of those charged with the common good.

"The public authorities have in such cases the right and the duty to impose on their citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.

"Those who are devoted to the service of the nation [patrie] in military service are the servants of security and the freedom of people. If they do their duty properly, they contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.

"The public authorities will provide equitably for those who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to use arms, although they remain bound to serve the human community in some other way. The Church and human reason declare the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflicts.|The fact that war is unhappily begun does not mean that all is licit between the contending parties.'"

The last quotation is from Gaudium et Spes. Indeed, the whole section paraphrases the conciliar constitution (paragraph 79). But in 1965, when this section was debated and voted on, the U.S. bishops in particular were reluctant to accept any criticism of their administration and so any questioning of deterrence.

Their pastoral letter on war and peace was not yet conceived. On this topic, at least, the council was time-bound and assumed the continued existence of the Cold War.

Despite this historical conditioning, Gaudium et Spes made a solemn declaration introduced by the formula declarandum est - the only instance of its use - condemning the arms race: "Therefore, we declare once again: The arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race, and the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured. And there is every reason to fear that if it continues, it will bring forth those lethal disasters that are already being prepared."

The catechism waters this teaching down: "The armaments race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it runs the risk of making them worse. The expenditure of fabulous riches in the devising of ever-new weapons prevents help being brought to impoverished peoples; it is an obstacle to their development."

The footnote reference here is to Paul VI's 1967 encyclical, Populorum Progressio, and not, as one would expect, to the passage from Gaudium et Spes on "one of the greatest curses of mankind."

On dissuasion, the catechism merely says: "The stockpiling of arms seems to many to be paradoxically a way of discouraging eventual adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective way of assuring peace between the nations. This method of dissuasion calls forth serious moral reservations." But what the reservations are is not stated.

Now, admittedly, it would be premature to judge the catechism on its treatment of a single issue. But if it proves a broken reed in matters on which the magisterium seemed to have made some progress since the council, one can only conclude that it is a missed opportunity.

Moreover, if it ignores John Paul's positive contribution to the debate on a new world ethic, the conscientious faithful can only be bewildered. There are true prophets abroad, as well as the false ones the pope warns about.
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Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 29, 1993
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