During the recent U.S. Catholic bishops fall assembly in Baltimore, two bishops decided to forego the military chaplains dinner sponsored by the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains Office, and attended instead a simple supper and discussion on peacemaking.
On the evening of Nov. 11, at historic St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Baltimore, Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis and Bishop John Michael Botean, head of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy (diocese) of St. George in Canton, Ohio, broke bread with about 20 Catholic peace activists including myself, and dialogued with us about how the Catholic Church could shift from a “just war” to a “just peace” doctrine and spirituality.
Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, started the dialogue off with a presentation on the theological developments of the concept of “just peace.”
He explained that by supporting co-operative conflict resolution, fostering just and sustainable economic development, advancing human rights and interdependence, significantly reducing weapons and the arms trade, education in non-violent peacemaking and resistance, and non-violent civilian-based defence we can help advance a peace founded on social justice and non-violence.
He said, “War continues to create habits of war.” As we quickly move from one armed conflict to the next, this observation is beyond dispute.
Tobin said, “War dehumanizes us.” To powerfully illustrate his point he said that during the Second World War, U.S. General Curtis LeMay, who planned and executed a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan, said that Japanese make good kindling tinder.
LeMay also said, “Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”
Botean said during the Chinese invasion of Tibet no one would have expected the Dalai Lama to tell his followers to take up arms to fight the Chinese. No one would have expected him to espouse violence. But in contrast, the general population does not expect Catholics to refuse the taking up of arms. In light of the non-violent Jesus, there’s something wrong with this picture.
Botean also mentioned that he personally has given every U.S. Catholic bishop a copy of the prophetic book Christian Just War Theory: The Logic of Deceit. It’s definitely worth reading.
McCarthy reminded us that Jesus is the preeminent model of “just peace” in his “caring for the outcasts, loving and forgiving enemies, challenging the religious, political, economic and military powers, along with risking and offering his life on the cross to expose and transcend both injustice and violence.”
He added that Jesus’ new commandment to “love as I have loved you,” is a command to non-violently love neighbours, strangers and even enemies.
A key question to ask ourselves according to McCarthy is “What kinds of people are we becoming?”
Are we becoming more understanding, forgiving, just, generous, compassionate, gracious, and peaceful? Do we love everyone unconditionally as God does? Are there sides to us as individuals and as a society that harbour selfishness, greed, anger, vengeance, violence and indifference?
It was encouraging to hear two bishops and 20 lay people struggling with their consciences to discern how best to challenge the church and themselves to relinquish all ties to war and war preparation.
This discussion also finds echoes in Canada. The chair of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission on Justice and Peace, Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen, noted recently that Pope Francis has been challenging the church and society as a whole to rethink its patterns which so frequently lead to violence and war.
Bolen said, “Pope Francis has repeatedly issued impassioned pleas that we work for peace, that we mourn war and do all we can to prevent it, and that we foster a culture of dialogue and encounter, where our first instincts and our energies are for dialogue, not preparation for battle.
“Jesus calls us to be artisans of reconciliation, who transform hatred into love and war into peace. The Holy Spirit is at work within us whenever we do so.”
Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist