Vatican Conference (But Not Necessarily Vatican) Wants to Do Away With 'Just War' Theory

Participants say no wars are just.


St. Peter's Square, The Vatican
Anna & Michal / Flickr

As 80 Catholics from a number of organizations were convening for a Vatican-sponsored conference on the Church's "just war" theory this week, Pope Francis prepared a letter urging them to offer "thoughts on revitalizing the tools of non-violence." Instead, participants released a document forcefully rejecting the idea that there is such a thing as a just war at all in the modern world.

From a story in the National Catholic Reporter:

Members of a three-day event co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi have also strongly called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other "major teaching document," reorienting the church's teachings on violence.

"There is no 'just war,'" the some 80 participants of the conference state in an appeal they released Thursday morning.

If the pontiff did proffer a new teaching along those lines, it would be a major rethinking of the Church's stance. "Just war" holds that armed conflict is justified only under narrow circumstances: if the damage that would be inflicted by the enemy would be lasting and grave; the war is very likely to be successful; all other alternative are shown to be impractical or unlikely to succeed; and the use of weapons will not produce "worse evils" than those being combatted.

The teaching was developed by such theological heavyweights as Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint John Paul II, the pope who preceded now–Pope Emeritus Benedict. It is codified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a book that outlines the beliefs of the Catholic faithful.

The document produced by this conference, titled "An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence," is just that—an appeal. Participants don't have the authority to change Church teachings on their own, but were tasked with making recommendations for Pope Francis to review and consider.

It's far from certain he'll go as far as the conference would like. During the Second Vatican Council, when a commission convened to study the impact of birth control on society put out a document suggesting that, contrary to previous teaching, contraception was not intrinsically sinful, the pope at the time, Paul VI, formally repudiated it.

One could argue that the change proposed by the just war conference is different in kind from the change the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control wanted. If, for example, the pope concluded that the fourth criterion named above is impossible to fulfill in today's world given modern weaponry, he might be able to deem the theory obsolete without suggesting it's incorrect per se.

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  1. “Participants say no wars are just.”

    So are they taking the idiotic, evil Gandhi view that Britain should have just given up and given their island to Hitler?

    1. Nah, they’re just doing a CYA for their future collaborators.

    2. “It’s not just a war! It’s also an historical imperative! And a dessert topping!”

  2. “Participants say no wars are just.”

    Well, that’s probably stupid, but doing away with Just War Theory is a good move. It’s a complete failure. Laurie Calhoun has done an excellent job documenting how pliable and flimsy it’s been.

    1. Throughout history? Charles the Hammer was wrong to fight the Battle of Tours? Jan Sobeiski should have let the Ottomans take Vienna? Irish’s example of Britain resisting the Nazi assault… Just fucking iiotic.

      1. Maybe it’s a bullshit moral rhetorical trick (I repeat myself), as in, “no wars are ‘just’ but some are ‘good'”?

      2. The idea, of course, being that if you are attacked by someone waging an unjust war, it may not be unjust to resist them.

        1. Except that still makes Sobieski a dick, since it wasn’t Poland that was attacked by the Turks.

          1. I actually don’t think Christianity has a good answer for this.

            The religion has a highly problematic relationship with violence, but then it has been argued that our problematic relationship with violence generally speaking is the wellspring behind *all* religions (cf Renee Girard).

          2. And Britain and France weren’t attacked by Germany in 1939, either. So what’s your point?

    2. I think “just war” should be replaced with “necessary war”. You don’t fight wars because they are just. You fight wars because they are sometimes necessary for your survival.

      1. I think “just war” should be replaced with “necessary war”. You don’t fight wars because they are just. You fight wars because they are sometimes necessary for your survival.

        I’d say that a necessary war is entirely just. But that’s just me.

        1. I would agree, but not all just wars are “necessary” depending on how you define the term.

          1. “I would agree, but not all just wars are “necessary” depending on how you define the term.”

            Of course, especially if one was coming from a Christian perspective.

  3. I prefer the phrasing my own faith uses, in that all wars are “satanic”. Gotta go all out on these things, ya know??

  4. Well, nothing personal Vatican, but i think people stopped really considering you a moral-authority on anything sometime around the 3rd crusade

    1. No war is ever just. Sodomizing young boys, well that is a very difficult and complex issue.

    2. The Third Crusade left Muslim authorities with control of the Holy Lands but allowed Christian pilgrims and merchants to visit Jerusalem. Sounds like an excellent outcome.

      1. Yeah. It was the 4th Crusade when the Venetians never even made it to the Middle East and looted Constantinople when things went a bit south.

    3. There’s about a billion or so people worldwide that disagree.

  5. I always get confused when there’s this talk of the Catholic Church “considering” or “discussing” changing some teaching or bit of dogma. I’m not a Catholic, but my understanding has always been that Catholics hold that the will of God *knowable*, albeit only by clergy. If the Church changes its stand on this, what are they in fact saying? Did God change his mind? Were the supposedly divinely-inspired Saints wrong? Was someone lying? I mean, the answer of course is that there is no divine inspiration and Catholic dogma is just a bunch of old dudes in robes making shit up as they go along, but how do they justify it to the Church at large?

    1. “how do they justify it to the Church at large” – They just couch it in nonsensical language, like they’ve always done. And then pardon themselves to sell dispensations and ‘wash the feet’ of the kiddies. So why do people support it? Mostly Berniebros.

    2. I’m sure the Catholics who are up on their own doctrinal standpoints will pipe up soon enough, but my suspicion would be that the “teachings of the Church” are (for lack of a better term) broken into “levels”: some are non-negotiable because Divinely revealed (i.e., Jesus is the Son of God), others are changeable because they are derived inferences from the non-negotiable stuff and/or are culturally conditioned (birth control being the one that stands out for me, as well as Catholic clergy being unable to marry after entering Holy Orders, ferinstance).

      Threading that needle would exhaust me, but some people actually find it intellectually stimulating.

      1. In the Latin Church, it’s exactly that ? theological certitude.

        In the Greek Church, on the other hand, things are much less defined.

    3. The Catholic Church’s teaching basically fall into 3 main categories : Dogma, Doctrine, and Discipline.

      Dogma generally an unchangeable teaching that has either been approved by the whole church at a council of all the bishops and/or has come about by the Pope declaring that it is a dogma via a technical – and rare – decree (ex cathedra)

      Doctrine is a lower level of teaching which is generally held to be true, but is not considered to be perfectly expounded, and is therefore open to variation of interpretation and expansion by theologians.The best example of this in the modern Church is the doctrine of Purgatory which must be believed in, but its exact makeup is open to considerable interpretation and many theologians differ on how they describe it. If a doctrine is seen to be too contentious, it is typically more closely defined as a dogma via a Council.

      Discipline is a rule that the faithful must follow because it is seen as spiritually beneficial to the Church as a whole. The discipline is not inherently considered necessary, and can change over time and through culture. A good example of this is that it used to be required to abstain from meat on all Fridays, but that discipline was lifted sometime around 1965. Another discipline is the celibate priesthood, and so this might change if pressure or theology pushes against it too far.

      1. The concept of Just War Theory, I believe, is closer to the discipline side of things, namely, that it is a theory endorsed by the Church but not considered to be objectively true.

  6. So calling the cops to arrest your neighbor as he is beating his wife is unjust too, right?

    No? So how can all wars be unjust.

  7. the National Catholic Reporter:

    That guy comments here.

        1. And links to silly videos like a big, silly goose from gooseville.

          1. Jeezus, Crusty, just admit to being “that guy” already, willya?

          2. Just admit you kind of like him in a well non hetero kind of way. NTTAWWT

  8. I am going to guess that picture is a shot of St Peter’s in the moonlight, because there is no way that St. Peter’s square would be that empty in the late afternoon.

  9. Every bit of liberty we still have – religious, economic, and civil – was won in combat. Eventually they will have to be won all over again.

    Regardless of what these effete, decadent liberals are trying to sell, I believe that there are just wars.

  10. Just war theory is essential if the church is going to allow wars to take place. And by that I mean not get all churchy over people having them. Being a reformed Irish Cathoilic, I understand a lot of it. Accept the idea of a just war. And unjust wars. Logic, actually. Just don’t care much what Catholics think about it, Especially the clergy. Not like they have fought wars in the last 80 years or so,

    Though I wonder how Francis(himself) feels about Che and the rebels killing people in his country homeland for Justice and all.

  11. Christians had their peaceful non violent resistant times 1800 or so, years ago, dying in droves until that stupid fuck Constantine converted the entire empire… Fortunately they grew their balls back after the rise of islam or we’d probably be speaking arabic now. As silly as christianity is at least it eventually gave birth to the idea of reason, don’t see that happening with islam… but who knows.

    Ultimately I would be surprised if pope commie endorsed the “no war is just” meme

    1. Christians had their peaceful non violent resistant times 1800 or so, years ago, dying in droves until that stupid fuck Constantine Theodosius I converted the entire empire.


      Constantine I make Christianity a tolerated religion with the Edict of Milan in 313; Theodosius I make Nicene Christianity the legal religion of the Roman Empire with the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 and continued on banning non-Nicene Christianity and pagan religions in 389-392.

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