What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the “just war”

Free Syrian Army fighters drive a captured Syrian military tank in Khanasir on August 29. As speculation mounted over airstrikes on Syria, Western church leaders warned that military intervention could lead to an escalation of hostilities. (CNS Photo/Molhem Barakat)

With news of impending US military action in Syria, some Catholics may wonder what the Church is saying about the war. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany any war, the Church urges everyone with insistence to prayer and action so that the divine Goodness frees us from the ancient bondage of war. (§2307)

The Church teaches, however, that some wars are justified.

Of course, war has not been eradicated from human affairs. As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be deprived of the right to self-defence once all means of peaceful settlement have been exhausted. State authorities and others who share public responsibility have a duty to conduct such serious matters with sobriety and to protect the well-being of those entrusted to their care. But it is one thing to undertake military action in the just defense of the people, and quite another to seek the subjugation of other nations. Likewise, the mere fact that the war has unfortunately begun does not mean that all is fair between the warring parties.

Gaudium and Spes§79

The Catechism summarizes the just war doctrine at §2308-2309:

All citizens and all governments are obliged to work to avoid war.

However, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of self-defence, once all efforts of peace have failed”.

2309 The strict requirements of self-defence by military force require rigorous examination. the seriousness of such a decision subjects it to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At a time :

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or the 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.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions of moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have the responsibility for the common good.

— Catechism of the Catholic Church§2308-2309

With these excerpts from the catechism in mind, do you think US military action in Syria is justified?


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