Tuesday, November 18, 2003

"Following Ratzinger's Lead" regarding the war in Iraq

Chris Sullivan responds to my last post:
For a web site dedicated to Cardinal Ratzinger, I am disappointed that you give such weight to the pro-war views of certain US Catholics and such little weight or attention to the views of Cardinal Ratzinger himself, who always resolutely opposed the invasion of Iraq. Let alone the views of the Holy Father or the many Catholic Bishop's conferences throughout the world who all opposed this war.

There is little point in looking to towards Rome or to Cardinal Ratzinger if you don't listen carefully to what they say and try to follow their lead.

It should be clear by now that I do not share the opinion of those who believe disagreement with the Pope and Ratzinger over this war constitutes unfaithfulness to the Church. I certainly do not think one could apply the label of 'dissenter' to Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel, Hudson, et al. or to any Catholic who with consideration and humility offered their respectful disagreement with the Vatican on this matter.

I did not expect (nor would I have preferred) that the Pope baptize this war as a new crusade. The Holy Father has done what Catholics should desire and trust him to do in a time of international crisis: to urge that the option of war be adopted as a last resort, that all possible peaceful means be exhausted, and that if it comes to such, that the principles of waging a just war (noncombatant immunity; proportionality; right intention) be carefully administered throughout.

Likewise, while Cardinal Ratzinger did oppose the war, he did so based on his opinion as to whether the principles of CJWT were suitably applied and concerns about what might happen as a consequence of the war (further political destabilization in the Middle East, the inflammation of radical Islamic hatred towards Christianity.) 1 Other scholars who have made the Church's Just War tradition and matters of U.S. foreign policy the focus of their studies have respectfully disagreed, offering their own reasons (which I find after consideration to be credible).

But unlike the questionable and misleading statements of some members of the clergy, neither the Pope nor Ratzinger have explicitly and definitely ruled that the war is immoral, or -- carrying out what I would imagine might be the logical action of such ruling -- placed those who engage in this war under penalty of sin. I believe the reason they have declined to do so -- in spite of the likely wishes of the press or the anti-war movement -- is that they recognize it is not their prerogative to do so.

To "follow [the Pope & Ratzinger's] lead" certainly obligates us to consider what they and the rest of the bishops have to say, but it does not prohibit faithful Catholics from disagreeing in matters where the Catechism specifically reserves ultimate judgement on moral legitimacy of military action not to the clergy, but to those "who have responsibility for the common good," -- and furthermore permits Catholic laity to engage in prudential judgements on such matters as well. As to the nature of such decisions, Russel Shaw explains:

Given the limits of human knowledge, even prudential judgments by prudent people can be mistaken. In the present instance, the pope and Catholics who differed with him — conscientious and informed people like Novak, Weigel and Hudson — based their stands on an assessment of likely consequences of different courses of action. Since the assessments of what was more or less likely to happen in the future were different, so were the conclusions about what course of action to take.

To disagree with the pope in this manner is not dissent. It's not as if Pope John Paul II had taught a definitive moral principle (e.g., direct attacks on noncombatants are ruled out) which the disagreeing Catholics rejected. They agreed with the principle. They disagreed about something contingent and by no means certain: what the future outcome of complex, competing scenarios was likely to be. 2

In short, as the CDF notes in its document on the participation of Catholics in political life, the "Church’s magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions," -- from everything that I have read and understand, the matter of U.S. policy in Iraq remains just that). 3

Please forgive the cursory response -- it's getting late, and I realize there is much to talk about. I would be open to discuss this further, having previously set aside a section of the RFC's forum for this purpose. I can promise you that if you would present further your argument as to why the war was unjust, I would certainly take the time to respond in more depth.

Further resources or related reading:

  1. Honestly there wasn't a great deal I could find by the Cardinal in the way of specific quotes with regards to the war; if you could please direct me to some (besides this I would appreciate it.
  2. Iraq, Weigel and the Pope, by Russel Shaw. Catholic Exchange March 13, 2003.
  3. Quote from the CDF document borrowed from Deal Hudson's "Making Our Own Decisions", on why prudential decisions about the legitimacy of this war differ from, say, a decision whether to proceed with an abortion. Crisis Magazine March 1, 2003.

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