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The Pope and the President
[Opinion] What Benedict should have told Bush
Josef Bordat (DrBordat)     Print Article 
Published 2007-06-11 13:21 (KST)   
Coming from the G8-summit, U.S. President George W. Bush visited Rome, where he was received by Pope Benedict XVI in audience. They discussed the results G8-summit as well as the situation of the prosecuted Christian Minority in Iraq, but, as Bush said later, "We did not talk about just war."

Bush might be very glad about this agenda. As we know, the former Pope John Paul II was one of the harshest critics of Bush's war on Iraq in 2003. Although it already was obvious that Benedict does not follow his predecessor in particularly this criticism of the violent U.S. foreign policy, it is really a shame, that the "war on terror" was not on the agenda. This is because Benedict, when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, is known as one of the leading Christian theologians in the world, would have had a lot to say about this topic, based on the rich tradition of Catholic theology.

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What would the Pope have told the president? Based on the traditional treatment of just war in Catholic theology, I will try to reconstruct three crucial points of a possible argument, referring mainly to the influential patristic and scholastic concept of bellum iustum (just war) as discussed by St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

Augustine reflects upon the question whether Christians (as Bush claims to be one) may wage war or not. He comes to a positive conclusion for such cases when the war is waged to restore peace. Augustine modifies Jesus's request for a radical non-violent attitude as it is expressed in the Gospel to an inner attitude, the praeparatio cordis (the heart's attitude), that does not demand a strict peaceful behavior in any concrete situation possible, but allows the individual to take military action, e.g. in cases of self-defense.

On first impression, this seems to support Bush's "war on terror," because it makes military action possible in principle, arguing against a radical Christian pacifism. But a closer look reveals that "restoring peace" and "self-defense" do not describe the situation in which the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq takes place. "Restoring peace" does not work through military violence as the daily terror in Iraq shows clearly, where more people died after the official end of the war than during it -- both soldiers and civilians. And a case of "self-defense" can not be seen, for the terrorist's attacks of September 11, 2001 were planned and carried out by an international network, not by a single state. And furthermore, there never was clear evidence that if a state could be blamed for covering up for this network, it only could be Afghanistan.

In Augustine, one prerequisite of a just war is always the transgression of the other: "Iniquitas enim partis adversae iusta bella ingerit gerenda sapienti." ("Only the injustice of the other side forces the wise to just wars.") [1] But anyway, before bombing there has to be done everything to avoid war, because in Augustine's view war always is a manifestation of evil, which may be carried out only after exhaustion of all peaceful means, as an ultima reatio. Christians are called to keep peace as far as possible, according to the Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Romans: "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all." (Rom 12, 18).

It is upon you, Mr. President, to answer the question: The "exhaustion of all peaceful means" -- did that happen?

What about Iraq? There was the claim of a potential attack with weapons of mass destruction in the future, and that this attack had to be prevented by war. Augustine says: With a just war, the enemy is prevented from performing evil, an evil that contributes indirectly to the eschatological benefit of the individual's soul, that again is orientated to the right behavior and to God. If the enemy is not stopped doing evil by means of war, he would go on harming God's eternal law and sooner or later -- understood eschatologically -- he would be exposed to a worse punishment than what he should expect as worldly consequences of the war.

But Augustine does not take the evil of a possible future into consideration. And in Augustine the recta intentio (right intention) sets its limit on the way of warfare. According to Augustine, only such means are permitted that contribute to the fast and direct victory and the refinement of the sinner, and not those that are meant only to carry out revenge, to promote greed, and to show cruelty, because revenge, greed, and cruelty do not lead to peace but to irreconcilability.

The pictures coming from the Abu Graib prison showed such cruelty to the world, including the terrorists and their supporters. Furthermore, there has been a loophole in the argument, because the weapons of mass destruction do not exist. Bush might explain that he had to believe his intelligence service and they informed him wrongly, but a well-informed Pope, at least concerning the ecclesiastical history, would surely remember the Spanish Dominican Juan Gines de Sepulveda's statement, "Princeps qui dubia causa bellum infert in magno peccato est." ("A statesman waging war on a doubtfull reason commits a big sin.") [2]

Finally Benedict could have mentioned Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas asks whether waging war is always a sin. Only under three conditions can this question be answered negatively: There should be an authorization by the monarch (auctoritas principis), a just reason (causa iusta) and a right intention (recta intentio) at the same time to be able to qualify a war as a bellum iustum. In addition to the three terms of the scholastic ius ad bellum, Aquinas mentions the debitus modus (proportional means) that became the principle of ius in bello. [3]

All these prerequisites could be questioned in the context of the "war on terror." There are brutal means (torture), a doubtful intention (geopolitical superiority, oil), no just reason (as discussed above) and it may be disputed whether the U.S. President is the rightful authority to wage war in our times, (some say, this could only be the U.N.).

The Pope should have criticized the president, not in an political, but in an theological argument, from Christian to Christian. That would have been his business as the leader of the Catholic Church.
[1] Augustine, De Civitate Dei, l. XIX, c. 7.
[2] Juan Gines de Sepulveda, Democrates segundo o de las justas causas de la guerra contra los indios, p. 114.
[3] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 40, a. 1.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Josef Bordat

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