October 28, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

We must work hard to avoid war and promote peace

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

The history of humankind is marked by endless warfare, the seemingly constant conflict between families, tribes, nations and peoples. In the modern era—especially since the middle of the last century—wars have included the threat of complete annihilation through the use of “weapons of mass destruction.” War has always been problematic—even when it was “justified,” but now it has the potential to totally destroy life as we know it. How can we possibly justify that?

In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops of the United States warn against becoming indifferent to war (#68). The number of armed conflicts spreading throughout the globe and the ever-present threats against our way of life can have a numbing effect. More than ever before, we need to be awake and alert to the dangers of war. More important, we must work hard to avoid war and promote peace.

War is never a sign of what ought to be. It is never OK, even when it is necessary to defend the innocent against an even greater evil. At best, war is like an amputation that becomes necessary to protect the rest of the body against a death-dealing infection. War should always be the last resort, and we should never lose sight of the cost of war (personal, economic and social) and its irreversible harm to human life.

As noted in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” “Nations should protect the dignity of the human person and the right to life by finding more effective ways to prevent conflicts, to resolve them by peaceful means, and to promote reconstruction and reconciliation in the wake of conflicts” (#68).

It’s true that nations have the right, and the obligation, to protect innocent people against unjust aggression, including terrorism and the persecution of individuals and groups for reasons of race, political ideology, religious intolerance or economic gain. As we bishops teach, “the duty of nations to defend human life and the common good demands effective responses to terror, moral assessment of and restraint in the means used, respect for ethical limits on the use of force, a focus on the roots of terror, and fair distribution of the burdens of responding to terror” (#68).

But the right to defend against unjust aggression is not unlimited. Here, as everywhere, the end does not justify the means. As Catholics and as faithful citizens, we insist that “the use of torture must be rejected as fundamentally incompatible with the dignity of the human person and ultimately counterproductive in the effort to combat terrorism” (#68). As Church leaders, we have also raised fundamental moral concerns about preventive use of military force. We honor the commitment and sacrifice of those who serve in our nation’s armed forces, and we also recognize the moral right to conscientious objection to war in general, a particular war, or a military procedure.

Again, as Catholics and as citizens, we feel compelled to speak out against any use of force that is indiscriminate or disproportionate. “Direct and intentional attacks on noncombatants in war and terrorist acts are never morally acceptable. The use of weapons of mass destruction or other means of warfare that do not distinguish between civilians and soldiers is fundamentally immoral. The United States has a responsibility to work to reverse the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and to reduce its own reliance on weapons of mass destruction by pursuing progressive nuclear disarmament. It also must end its use of anti-personnel landmines and reduce its predominant role in the global arms trade” (#69).

Catholics are called to be peacemakers, not warmongers. We understand that the use of military force is sometimes both justified and necessary, but we would much prefer that our leaders use other means to promote the common good and achieve lasting peace. “Further, we support policies and actions that protect refugees of war and violence, at home and abroad, and all people suffering religious persecution throughout the world, many of whom are our fellow Christians” (#69).

In this election year, we have many tough choices to make, but high on the priority list is this question: Which candidates and political parties are truly for peace, justice and the common good of all? There are no easy answers. That’s why we need to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit—especially on Election Day. †

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