Revisiting the Just War Doctrine of the Catholic Church Through the Prism of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict | National Catholic Register


Pope Francis has called for a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine on January 26 amid fears of a possible deeper incursion into the Eastern European country by Russia.

“I sincerely appeal to all people of good will, to raise prayers to Almighty God, so that every political action and initiative serves human fraternity, rather than partisan interests,” the pope said. Francis on January 23, urging everyone to remember. the many lives lost in Ukraine during World War II and the protests against the war. “Please no more war,” he said, appealing to those in power.

The prospect of war between Ukraine and Russia and the potential involvement of the United States raise questions about the morality of war. What exactly is the teaching of the Church on war?

Unlike the Quakers and other Christian denominations, the Catholic Church is not pacifist in principle. The Church’s teaching on the morality of war is based on a theory expounded by St. Augustine in the fourth century, known as the Just War Theory, and recognizes a potentially just reason for engaging in war. under certain conditions.

In 2019, expert theologians told CNA that applying this theory to modern warfare, which often involves missiles and airstrikes rather than pitched battles between troops, is more complicated but still prescriptive.

Kevin Miller, a moral theologian at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, explained that the concept was a well-established part of Church teaching and thought.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church does a good job of summarizing the criteria for entering into the use of military force for self-defense,” Miller told CNA, “although I tend to think that war right is more a “doctrine” than a “theory” in the Church”.

In his 2019 interview, Miller said the moral standards of the Church are divided into two categories: ius ad bellum and the ius in bello, covering the right to war and how it should be fought once started. To be morally lawful, a war must be both just in its cause and justly fought.

What exactly constitutes a just cause?

“The first criterion for the use of military force is, of course, just cause,” Taylor Patrick O’Neill, assistant professor of theology at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told CNA in a statement. another interview in 2019.

Paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that both “the damage caused by the aggressor to the nation or community of nations must be lasting, serious and certain; all other means of ending it must have proved impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders more serious than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in the assessment of this condition.

According to the Catechism, weighing the above elements “belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good”.

As universal shepherds, popes have often sought to influence the prudential judgments about the morality of war made by world leaders.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent a delegation to dissuade President George W. Bush from invading Iraq. Pope Francis was joined in his call to prayer for a peaceful resolution to the Ukrainian crisis by the bishops of the European Episcopate and other bishops around the world.

The question of proportionality in war – whether military action causes more harm and disorder than it solves – is a particularly difficult question to answer, according to theologians interviewed by CNA.

Says Miller: “To have the moral justification and do a proportionality calculation, you have to have good information about who might be hurt. Obviously, there can be unintended consequences, but you need to have a fair amount of information about the potential effects of military action before you can judge whether it’s a fair response.

O’Neill explained: “Of course, a lot of it is about thinking about five or 10 steps down the road, and it’s about balancing the need to prevent an escalation while keeping an eye on all possible unintended consequences.”

Some European bishops who joined the Holy Father in calling for prayers for peace in Ukraine this week expressed concern over the escalation. Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, said earlier this week that rising tensions with Russia pose “a great danger” to the whole of Europe “which can destroy the progress made so far by many generations in building peaceful order and unity in Europe”.

Ukraine, which has a population of 44 million, borders Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus and Russia.

In addition to simultaneously satisfying the first set of conditions for arriving at a determination that a just cause exists, the war must also be fought justly. The Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium and Spesclearly teaches: “The mere fact that war has unfortunately broken out does not mean that everything becomes lawful between the belligerents”.

This means that military actions must meet certain moral conditions. For example, the indiscriminate destruction of cities or civilian lives is prohibited, and the fundamental human rights of non-combatants, wounded soldiers and prisoners of war must not be abrogated.

But serious questions about what constitute military actions ius in belloor simply acts of war, have multiplied in recent years with the advent of drone strikes and other acts of war against infrastructure that serves both military and civilian purposes.

Modern conflicts often involve long-range means of warfare and targets whose military status is unclear, such as government intelligence posts, radar stations, or other logistical facilities. Although the personnel there may be primarily military, the presence of civilians must be carefully weighed to discern military action.

“The classification of people involved can be very difficult to discern in modern conflicts,” O’Neill said.

“We don’t necessarily see artillery bombarding enemy lines. With long-range strikes on military targets, there are people involved who might not be military: they might be government intelligence operatives or people in a gray area,” he said. “But then there’s the possibility of just having the civilian janitor in the building — how do you put them in the balance of proportionality?

“It makes things very difficult.”

O’Neill said that with modern means of warfare, it is incumbent upon governments to take all possible measures to limit the loss of potentially innocent human life.

The Russian-Ukrainian war began in February 2014, focused on eastern Ukraine. The conflict has claimed more than 14,000 lives and driven 1.3 million people from their homes, according to Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based confederation of Catholic charities. raise funds for the people concerned.

The warring parties agreed to a ceasefire in July 2020. But Russia has sent around 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border. US President Joe Biden said on January 19 that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to order an invasion.

Since then, tensions have not subsided. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that Putin would take the time to study hand-delivered documents from Western leaders regarding the conflict. But, he added, “it cannot be said that our views have been taken into account, or that a willingness to take our concerns into account has been demonstrated”.


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