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Archive for August 28th, 2007

One of the more unfortunate passages in The Catechism of the Catholic Church occurs right after the traditional elements for a just war are listed:

   

        The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgement of those who have responsibility for the common good. (CC 2309)
 
While
Church authorities have at least as much "responsibility for the common
good" as civil authorities- as Catholic peace activists have pointed
out- the context is made clear by the line that follows:
 
      Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations for national defense. (CC 2320)
 
While
the passage is balanced somewhat by CC 2311, which insists that the
State accomodate conscientious objectors, the line has been quoted
endlessly by American Catholic apologists for our aggressive foreign
policy, George Weigel going so far as to suggest a presidential
"charism" for making judgments about the justice of particular
conflicts. The Decider, and all that.
 
Taken at face value, the line is one of the most nonsensical ever uttered in the name of the Teaching Church.
 
After
all, while barbarians may have gone to war for the sheer disordered
pleasure of rapine and havoc, more sophisticated societies have always
framed their goals as noble or defensive.
 
Even
Hitler, modern archetype of the Evil Aggressor, proclaimed his policies
as idealistic, if narrowly nationalistic. And Hitler’s propaganda
machine had the German people living in fear of the Polish Menace
before his stormtroopers invaded that nation.
 
Clearly
history should teach us that the State is about the last voice one
should trust in determining the justice of a particular conflict.
 
When
contrasted with the Catechism’s teaching about conscience the
problematic passage stands out as a singular instance of magisterial
dissonance. For example:
 
      Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. (CC 1782)
And:

A human being must always obey the certain judgements of his conscience. 
(CC 1800)

 
The
one passage, granting the State the right to judge the justice of war,
is in direct conflict with these statements about the primacy of the
individual conscience. While it is to be devoutly hoped that the
offending passage will be revised, the Church recently implicitly
clarified its teaching.
 
On June 1, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to beatify Franz Jagerstatter as a martyr of the faith.
 
Franz
Jagerstatter, as most of you  know, was an Austrian farmer who was
executed by the Germans in 1943 for his refusal to fight in the Nazi
army. In a remarkable display of moral courage, the Servant of God
stood literally alone: his wife, his family, his pastor and two other
priests, and even his bishop all urged him to submit to the Nazis’
demand of military service. (It is so rare for a bishop to denounce his
own country’s war as unjust that Romanian Catholic Bishop John Michael
Botean’s prophetic rejection of the Iraq War in his 2003 Lenten
Pastoral Letter has been rightly called historic).
 
And
Blessed Franz was not content- like St Thomas More- to lay low and
blend in unless it was unavoidable: when greeted with the ubiquitous
"Heil Hitler!" he would respond with "Pfui Hitler!"
 
In
an age when even most Germans and Austrians who did not approve of Nazism went along with it –including the young Josef Ratzinger–Franz
Jagerstatter’s relentless moral courage stands as an eternal testament
to the primacy of conscience.
 
And as he was not
an absolute pacifist, but simply opposed the Nazi project and all its
aggression, it is also a tremendous boost to the decades-old efforts of
Catholic peace activists to revise American policy on conscientious
objection, which allows exemption from military service only for those
who oppose every use of force.
 
And it forever
clarifies on which side the Catholic Church stands when there is
conflict between individual conscience and "the prudential judgement of
those who have responsibility for the common good."

Daniel Nichols

 
 

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