Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has called for a “broad and deeply felt” debate on the question of just war theory and said a papal encyclical on the issue was possible. He also said that proposals to drop the concept of just war were “legitimate”.
Cardinal Turkson spoke to the Sunday Times after a conference sponsored by Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace movement, and the Vatican’s justice and peace office, earlier this month. At the conclusion of the conference participants called for the Catholic Church to renounce its just war doctrine and for Pope Francis to write an encyclical on nonviolence and “just peace.”
In a closing statement, attendees at the conference said that too often the doctrine had been used to justify and endorse military action rather than prevent it.
Cardinal Turkson said he hoped “the debate on these issues, now as pressing as ever, will continue.”
“Too often the ‘just war theory’ has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war, and it can undermine efforts to develop alternative capacities and tools for conflict to be overcome and transformed,” he said.
“Repeatedly, participants who lived in areas of conflict said, ‘We are tired of war.'”
He added that Pax Christi’s proposal “is very legitimate” and that “in the worldwide Catholic network, it is an important voice among many.”
“Pope Francis is working for collegiality, following the teaching of Vatican Council II,” said Cardinal Turkson. “It will be of utmost importance to initiate a broad, open, qualified, deeply felt and widespread debate. A possible encyclical is plausible only as the fruit of much dialogue, not as a starting point.”
Church teaching has long allowed for “just wars” — the use of force to stop an unjust aggression — as long as certain conditions are met. They include that other peaceful means have been exhausted, that the force is appropriate and won’t produce worse effects, and that there is a reasonable chance for success.
Writing in the forthcoming issue of the Catholic Herald, Field Marshal Lord Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff, says just war theory is an important aspect of Church doctrine that should not be abandoned.
“Warfare has changed, weapons are more terrible, but it must be right first to counter genocide, to protect the innocent, and to strive for a better world – and sometimes, armed resistance is the only way to do this. It is no good claiming that we can always bring about peace through diplomacy and dialogue,” he said.
“Of course warfare is a very bad thing, but there are surely times when the alternatives are even worse. It must be right to have a Just War tradition which is clear and attempts to regulate war in some ways.”