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What does the Catholic Church teach about the war on terror?

The Catholic Church's teaching about the war on terrorism is necessarily an application of its broader teaching about war. Just two months after 9/11, the American bishops insisted that "the traditional moral norms governing the use of force still apply, even in the face of terrorism on this scale."

The church's fundamental posture is against war, as recent popes have made clear. In 1963 Pope John XXIII said in Pacem en Terris that it was now unreasonable to consider war a useful tool to correct injustice. Pope Paul VI pleaded before the United Nations in 1965 for an end to all war--a challenge repeated in 1991 by Pope John Paul II: "Never again war!" (Centesimus Annus).

The Catholic Church, however, reluctantly accepts war as a remedy of last resort for an aggrieved state, much as an aggrieved individual might employ self-defense. The church's evaluation of war is a dynamic balance between reverence for every human life as God-given and sacred and acknowledgement for every nation's right to defend itself against unjust attack.

The church's familiar guidelines allow for a just war only if all other alternatives for redressing a wrong are exhausted. Our U.S. bishops in Challenge of Peace describe "just-war teaching ... as an effort to prevent war." Furthermore this teaching imposes severe limits on how a war is conducted. For example, noncombatants must be protected, and the military response "must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated" (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

The Second Vatican Council recognized in Gaudium et Spes that today "the savagery of war threatens to lead the combatants to barbarities far surpassing those of former ages." Experience has repeatedly shown that terrorism's most insidious consequence can be a cycle of additional atrocities.

Church leaders repeatedly warned of this corrosive effect of terrorism. On the very day of the terrorist attacks, the U.S. bishops urged Americans "to turn away from the bitter fruits of the kind of hatred which is the source of this tragedy." Pope John Paul II's prayer for survivors the following day was "that the spiral of hatred and violence will not prevail." Similarly, on the one-month anniversary, the pope prayed that Americans would "resist the temptation to hatred and violence." And as recently as October 16, 2006, the apostolic nuncio to the United Nations warned that if counter-terrorism should violate fundamental human rights, "it would corrode the very values that it intends to protect."

The American bishops affirmed that our nation "has a moral right and a grave obligation to defend the common good against mass terrorism," but also the obligation to address the non-military issues of poverty, injustice, and humanitarian crises that terrorists exploit.

And they offered a sober caution in Living with Faith and Hope after September 11: "Because of its terrible consequences, military force, even when justified and carefully executed, must always be undertaken with a sense of deep regret."

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By JIM DINN, a freelance writer retired in Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:glad you asked
Author:Dinn, Jim
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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