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Challenging the "just war"

The “just war” theory was developed to offer criteria, like protecting civilians from attack, that had to be met before war could be morally justified and continued. Most unfortunately, this led to the Catholic Church’s abandonment of total Christ-like nonviolence.

With the purpose of deepening the Catholic Church’s understanding and commitment to Gospel nonviolence and to urging that the “just war” theory be replaced with a Just Peace strategy, a monumental first-of-its-kind conference was held in April, last year, in Rome.

The Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference, co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International, gathered together an international group of approximately 80 bishops, theologians, priests, sisters, and lay people – all experienced nonviolent social justice and peace leaders – to begin to formulate for the Catholic Church a creative Gospel-based active nonviolent strategy to counter violence, armed conflict, and war.

One of the attendees, Fr. John Dear, a veteran nonviolent peace educator and activist, said to me there is no such thing as a just war. He emphasized that Jesus taught us to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil. Dear said we need to address the root causes of war like poverty and exclusion.

Another participant, Eli McCarthy, who represented the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, shared with me his amazement regarding stories about Catholic leaders negotiating with very violent armed actors. He spoke of an archbishop negotiating with the violent Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, and a Jesuit negotiating with paramilitaries in Colombia.

McCarthy said conference participants were informed about a bishop in warring South Sudan who created a peace village that has the trust of all armed actors. He said he heard that peace education is taught in all the schools in the Philippines, and that there is a University of Nonviolence in Lebanon.

The Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference produced a guiding document titled “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence.”

At the end of this document there is a call for Catholics to:

integrate Gospel nonviolence into life – including the sacramental life – and work of the Catholic Church through dioceses, parishes, schools and seminaries;

promote strategies of nonviolent resistance, restorative justice and unarmed civilian protection;

use or teach no longer the “just war” theory.


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