Both the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued statements denouncing a United States-led, pre-emptive strike against Iraq before war broke out, saying it did not meet the test of “proportionality” required under Catholic “just war” theory.
In wartime, some Catholics are asking themselves, where does one’s loyalties lie, with pope or president?
Patrick Sweeney is one such Catholic. The child of Irish immigrants, he said that he has started giving a “standard response” when asked where he feels his loyalties lie.
“I accept without reservation the teaching of the Catholic Church on ‘just war,’ ” said Sweeney. “I join with the pope in prayers for peace. I understand the church also teaches that the public authorities have the final responsibility for determining if a war is justified.”
An influential priest in Washington, D.C., Fr. John McCloskey, says that he has wrestled with the issues.
“I am conflicted myself about the justice of the war,” McCloskey said. “It does not seem to fit the requirements of just war as laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic church.”
But, said McCloskey, “the Catechism says that decision must be made by the
legitimate authority and he will bear responsibility and that is President Bush in this case. I think above all for an end to the war and true peace and justice for all involved. The Vatican speaks with true authority on this matter, but it is not imposing its opinion on the faithful in this matter.”
Caroline McKinley, a Boston resident who founded Faithful Voice, a conservative Catholic group that seeks to counter the activities of the more liberal lay group, Voice of the Faithful, said that the issue had become “no contest” for her.
She put her arguments thus: “The president has the counsel of the CIA, the FBI, the U.S. military. As the vicar of Christ, Pope John Paul II has the mystical counsel of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Whose judgment should bear more weight? It is no contest for me.”
“I continue to pray and fast for the president, political leaders, our soldiers and our enemies,” she added.
Dominic Bettinelli, a Catholic from Boston, drew a careful distinction in the issue, saying that it would be wrong to claim that the pope was against this war.
“Pope John Paul has not specifically condemned military action in Iraq,” Bettinelli said, “but has expressed opposition, a key distinction. A condemnation would be to state that the war is evil and unjust, but his opposition says that he acknowledges the evil of Saddam Hussein and his regime and the justice of removing him, but that he doesn’t think now or this manner is in which to do it.”
Derrin Smith, a former marine who is associated with a website called Catholicjustwar.org, has come down firmly on the side of war.
“As a former marine, I pray for peace daily,” he said. “I understand, however, that there is a price to pay for peace with freedom. Preempting Dictator Saddam Hussein’s threats to freedom and the peace-loving people of the world is a mandate that no civilized individual or government can shirk.”
Bettinelli agreed: “My position is that President Bush and the National Security Team are in a better position to know the situation on the ground in Iraq than either me or the Vatican and I trust them to do the right thing.”