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Rome Notes: Cardinal Stafford on War and the Church's Thinking

Critiques Positions by Some Catholic Scholars

by Delia Gallagher

ROME, MAY 24, 2004 (Zenit) - Some views recently voiced by Catholic scholars on Church teaching about war and on John Paul II's positions may have missed the point, says Cardinal James Francis Stafford.

In this interview, the American cardinal critiqued some of the views that have surfaced in the face of ongoing debates about the Iraq war. The cardinal is the major penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a tribunal of the Holy See, and a former archbishop of Denver.

The opinions offered by some Catholic scholars have put a focus on key questions such as: Is there a presumption against war in Catholic teaching? What does the Pope mean when he speaks of humanitarian intervention? What is the Holy See's position on the United Nations, an organization that not infrequently opposes Catholic teaching?

Cardinal Stafford in particular responded to comments made by scholars George Weigel and James Turner Johnson at a conference in Rome in late April.

Weigel asked: "Is the Catholic Church's position on the morally legitimate use of armed force -- whether that position is manifest in the personal witness of the Pope, the diplomacy of the Holy See, or the 'default position' found in the relevant Vatican agencies -- a kind of functional pacifism, a way of thinking that retains the intellectual apparatus of the just war tradition of moral reasoning but that always comes down at the bottom line in opposition to the use of armed force?"

"Recent events might seem to justify a positive answer to that question," Weigel said. "But then what is one to do with John Paul II's insistence on a 'duty' of 'humanitarian intervention' which would presumably include the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force, in cases of impending or actual genocide?"

To these questions, Cardinal Stafford responded: "The Pope speaks first not of humanitarian intervention but of humanitarian assistance."

"In his World Day of Peace Message 2000, the Pope allowed the right of 'humanitarian assistance,'" the cardinal said. "He speaks of this within the context of 'the armed conflicts taking place within states. ... For the most part, they are rooted in long-standing historical motives of an ethnic, tribal or even religious character, to which must be added nowadays, other ideological, social and economic causes. These internal conflicts, usually waged through the large-scale use of small-caliber weapons and so-called "light arms" -- arms which in fact are extraordinarily lethal -- often have grave consequences which spill over the borders of the country in question, involving outside interests and responsibilities.'"

"In the first place, the Pope speaks of humanitarian aid," Cardinal Stafford continued. "He described this as 'the pre-eminent value of humanitarian law and the consequent duty to guarantee the right to humanitarian aid to suffering civilians and refugees.' He then insists on the greatest importance of continued negotiation in such conflicts.

"Then the Pope speaks of humanitarian intervention. He says, 'When a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defense prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor.'"

"So the context of humanitarian intervention is: How does one get aid to people who are being oppressed by internal conflict within a given state?" noted the cardinal. "George Weigel's interpretation of the Pope's teaching on humanitarian intervention is excessively abbreviated and even misleading in what he omits."

"Weigel says that he presumes that such intervention would 'include the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force in cases of impending and actual genocide,'" Cardinal Stafford said.

"I find it curious that he makes no mention of the Pope's immediate qualifiers regarding the decision for 'humanitarian intervention,' which are severe and specific," he added. "'These measures must be limited in time and precise in their aims. They must be carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized and in any event never left to the outcome of armed conflict alone.'"

The cardinal continued: "The chief qualifier is that, 'the fullest and best use must therefore be made of all the provisions of the United Nations Charter.' That's important, the qualifiers that are not mentioned either by Weigel or Turner; that is, you must have respect for international law, you must involve the internationally recognized organization."

Presumption against conflict

In a 1983 document, the U.S. bishops' conference contended that Catholic ...

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