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The Iraqi war: Catholic views. (News in Brief: Vatican).

Rome -- Is there sufficient cause, from a moral standpoint, for a war with Iraq? Theologians and church leaders are grappling with applying the theory of a just war, first articulated by St. Augustine in 5th-century North Africa, to the situation in Iraq, as well as the criteria listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The just war theory discusses the rights of properly constituted governments to go to war when all peace efforts have failed, and outlines what constitutes appropriate activity in war time. The Catechism limits the legitimate use of military force to defence against aggression, which does not take into account military intervention against ethnic cleansing, terrorism, and guerilla warfare.

The theory of a just war is in constant development. Methods of warfare have changed, with the introduction of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction; and there has been a large growth of terrorist networks that are independent of authorized civil regimes. But whatever the changes in warfare, there must be a just, sufficient cause in order for any nation to go to war.

Public opinion, as evidenced by the global demonstrations in February, showed that the German-French opposition to immediate war with Iraq had strong support everywhere. There were many views expressed--from distaste for anything American to the need for more time for the UN weapons inspectors to complete their investigation in Iraq.

Pope John Paul II has come down firmly on the side of peace. He has held private meetings with representatives of a number of nations, including Tony Blair of Great Britain and Iraqi Deputy Vice Minister Tariq Aziz. Following the private meeting with Blair on February 24, the Pope confirmed the need:

"that all interested parties. . .collaborate with the United Nations and know how to make use of the resources offered by international law to avert the tragedy of a war that from different sides is still believed to be avoidable."

The Pope also sent papal envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray to Baghdad with a message of peace, and asked Catholics worldwide to use Ash Wednesday (March 5), traditionally a day of fast and abstinence, to pray in a particular way for world peace.

George Weigel

George Weigel, a U.S. Catholic theologian and biographer of Pope John Paul II, respectfully disagrees with the Vatican position on war with Iraq. He determines that classic just war thinking begins not with the "presumption against violence" suggested by some today, but with a basic moral judgment--that legitimate authorities have a moral obligation to defend the peace, which peace can sometimes be advanced by the "proportionate, discriminate, and strategically wise use of force."

On the question of "sovereign immunity," Weigel contends that the Iraqi regime cannot be granted that assumption since it holds the principles of international order in contempt (National Post, Nov. 20/02).

Michael Novak, another American Catholic theologian, was sent to Rome to explain the American position to the Vatican. He affirms that an imminent war with Iraq would be a "lawful conclusion" to the just war fought in February 1991. That war resulted when Iraq invaded Kuwait and was interrupted when terms of surrender were negotiated with Saddam Hussein. Novak argues that Hussein never complied with the terms and now has disrupted international order by refusing to disarm his country of weapons of mass destruction which are at risk of falling into the hands of terrorists.

What is not disputed by anybody is that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant to his own people, and has inflicted torture and death against his own citizens as well as those of neighbouring states. For twelve years he has defied the 1991 UN peace condition that his country completely disarm. And there are tenuous links between his regime and several terrorist organizations.

Many continue to feel that there does not seem to be sufficient public evidence of weapons of mass destruction to morally justify going to war, just yet. As Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary expressed it on February 18, at a reception in the Italian embassy in the Vatican:

"Disarmament is the way, but to achieve disarmament, there are still many peaceful ways left, and they must all be explored. War is not inevitable" (Zenit, Feb. 19/02).

The Bush administration, together with its supporters in Europe and elsewhere, does not believe that these "many peaceful ways" are at all realistic. One cannot keep an army of 200,000 soldiers waiting while Saddam Hussein thinks of more delaying tactics.

On February 26, the American president unveiled a vision of sweeping change and nation-building affecting the entire area, following what is expected to be a short war. The war is only to be a first step of transforming the whole Middle East, including a Palestinian state, and possibly changes in other Arab nations now ruled by autocrats (Globe, Feb. 27/ 03).

For the view of the bishops of the United States, see News in Brief, under "United States." (See also the article by Professor McBride in this edition on pp. 12-15).
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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