Participants at a conference hosted by the Vatican have 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, which was sponsored by the Vatican’s justice and peace office and Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace movement, said that too often the doctrine had been used to justify and endorse military action rather than prevent it.
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.
But the participants called for the church to no longer use or teach “just war” theory, for the church to instead develop a new peacemaking framework “consistent with Gospel nonviolence,” and for Francis to articulate it all in a new encyclical.
“The time has come for our church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices,” the statement said.
Francis, named after the peace-loving St. Francis of Assisi, has echoed his predecessors in condemning wars and promoting peace. He hosted a marathon prayer vigil to stave off threatened military action in Syria, brought the Israeli and Palestinian presidents together for a peace summit, and issues near-weekly appeals for peaceful ends to conflicts around the globe.
But he has also endorsed military action to stave off the Islamic State group advance in Iraq and Syria, where Christian minorities have been slaughtered by Islamic extremists. In comments to reporters in 2014, Francis said it was “licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” but said such military action must be endorsed by the international community and that the type of force must be evaluated.
The Pope issued an opening greeting to the Vatican conference. He did not mention the “just war” theory, but said the “ultimate and most deeply worthy goal of human beings and of the human community is the abolition of war.”