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    Question 78. There seems to be a lot of concern about whether or not the United States had the right to go to war with the regime of Saddam Hussein. I am really confused by the Holy See’s condemnation of the war when the world knew that many thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens had been murdered by Saddam’s henchmen. Saddam had the dubious distinction of being the world's best known and most hated Arab leader. And in a region where despotic rule is the norm, he was more feared by his own people than any other head of state. In my opinion, removing him from power was the right thing to do. Please explain the Vatican’s condemnation. – M. M. - Apple Valley, CA


    Answer. Generally speaking, the Church opposes war as a means to settle conflicts. Pope John Paul II insisted that war is a "defeat for humanity" and that a preventive strike against Iraq was neither legally nor morally justified under the just war theory.

    Aides repeatedly said the pope was not a pacifist, pointing to his support of humanitarian intervention to "disarm the aggressor" in Bosnia and East Timor and his repeat condemnations of terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks.

But in some of the Vatican's strongest language against a war in Iraq, its foreign minister Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said a unilateral military strike would be a "crime against peace" with no justification on grounds of self-defense.

This does not mean the Church is asking for "peace at any price," but wants to highlight the "great, very great responsibility" that world leaders face when it comes to decisions on war.

The Holy Father called on Saddam to cooperate urgently and fully with the international community "to eliminate any motive for armed intervention." The pope also asked member nations of the UN Security Council to respect their own UN charter, which allows the use of force only as a last resort, when all peaceful means have been exhausted.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, “Whoever decides that all the peaceful means made available under international law are exhausted assumes a grave responsibility before God, his conscience and history."

In addition, the Vatican was afraid not only of suffering and destruction because of the war, but also of the destabilization of the entire region. As the Vatican has pointed out, this region is of particular importance to the Church and Christians.

The bottom line is that the Vatican did not believe that all peaceful means had been exhausted.

Saint Augustine developed the “Just War Theory” in the fifth century. Augustine was concerned when various groups used violence and claimed to do so for religious reasons. He became convinced that these groups must be stopped and that the state had both a right and responsibility to stop them using force if necessary. Saint Augustine argued that the use of force and even war was justifiable in some cases. He established a set of guidelines for determining whether or not a war was just. The principles laid down by Saint Augustine have been part of Church teaching ever since. Over the years the Church has made them even more specific. At the heart of the developed guidelines was the principle that even in the midst of violence love must be central.

According to the principles of the just war theory, the use of force by the state is legitimate if and only if the purpose of the war is just. Not a war of aggression, and all of the following conditions must be met:

1.              There must be a real and certain danger; for example, if a situation threatens the life of innocent people, if basic human rights are violated, or if there is an imminent need for self-defense.

2.              The right to declare a war of defense belongs to those who have the legitimate responsibility to represent the people and uphold the common good.

3.              The rights and values to be gained by the conflict must justify the killing of people.

4.              There must be a commitment to reconciliation among all sides after the war. Non-combatants, prisoners, and the wounded are to be treated with respect, and the indiscriminate destruction of cities or large areas of land is prohibited.

5.              War must be the last resort after all other methods for achieving peace have been tried.

6.              The odds of success should be weighed against potential lives lost.

7.              The damage the war will inflict and the cost it will incur must be proportionate to the good expected. There must be serious hope that the use of force will actually put an end to the aggression.




Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved