I’ve avoided blogging about the Catholic Church’s fight against action in Iraq due primarily to my admiration for Pope John Paul II. I’ve wondered how this man, as well as the other leaders of the Church, didn’t see the rational of the liberation of Iraq which I see as so obvious. What was I missing? Yet after papal envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray’s was dispatched by the Vatican to affect a diplomatic solution to the conflict, I’ve accepted that the Church’s position depends on a strange postmodern rejection by the Church of genuine evil that not only do I fundamentally disagree with but also one, I believe, that flies in the face of traditional Catholic teaching.
The Church’s position and, at the risk of giving protestors too much intellectual credit, that of many others in the anti-war camp, seems to be largely based on St. Thomas Aquinas’ statement, as stated in the Catechism that:
“An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.”
In this context, the action of making war against Iraq, which can certainly be considered unjustified under a strict reading of Just War Theory, itself negates action in Iraq regardless of any potentially positive outcomes that may result.
Yet the Church argues that it isn’t blind to potential threats posed by Iraq, with Cardinal Etchegaray stating that Iraq should completely comply with UN resolutions,
seemingly acknowledging that the US does have legitimate problems with Iraqi actions. Giorgio Ruini, editorialist for L'Osservatore Romano, argues (quoted by Zenit News Service):
“It is vital to maintain united the concepts of peace and justice. In this sense the Vatican's position is not at all "pacifist," Ruini affirmed, but rather in favor of a "pacification" of the situation. Such a pacification would involve removing the causes of conflict, he added.”
But the source of the conflict isn’t difficult to ascertain - Saddam Hussein’s unquenchable thirst for weapons of mass destruction. And herein is the basis for the difference in the Church’s position my own. While we both recognize the need for Saddam to disarm, the Church believes that diplomatic means alone can bring this about. Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls believes
it’s the responsibility “of all sides” to prevent war. It’s with this mentality that Etchegaray was dispatched to Baghdad to negotiate. Yet essential to the view that negotiations can bring about Iraqi compliance is the belief that the Iraqi leadership desires to live in harmony with the international community, that they, in the words of Navarro-Valls, actually want to work at “ensuring the people's peace.”
Given Saddam’s actions of the past 35 years, this is a dubious proposition. It seems hard for me to accept that Saddam would unilaterally disarm for the betterment of his people, when he’s allowed sanctions to starve his people over the past 12 years while he became richer under the food-for-oil program.
The Church, however, for some reason seems to believe that Saddam can be convinced to have a change of heart. While I don’t know how the Church can expect such a transformation given Saddam’s history, expecting one is essentially a rejection of the concept of evil. This is where I differ from the practice of the modern Church although, thankfully, not the official doctrine. Evil is not a simplistic view of the world but instead one that fills the pages of the Catechism:
“Scripture and the Church's Tradition continually recall the presence and universality of sin in man's history.”
Saddam, to me, is simply the latest incarnation of sin in the world, and evil cannot be negotiated with but must be entirely rejected. To argue for negotiations with Saddam you must argue that he is not evil, but, as President Bush said, if Saddam is not evil, “then evil has no meaning.”
Where does this leave the Church’s argument? To begin with, I accept that it is legitimate to reject war with Iraq on the basis of Just War Theory. However, if one does that, it is imperative that the consequences of that rejection are examined, and only two outcomes of this rejection are possible. The first is that, as the modern Church now seems to believe, Saddam can be talked into disarming. As I’ve said, however, this seems to fly in the face of both the Church’s own teaching on evil as well as the history of Iraq. Therefore, if you accept, as logic dictates, that Saddam can’t be simply talked into playing nicely with others, acceptance of this reading of Just War Theory means that we have to accept both Saddam’s continuing development of weapons of mass destruction and the continued suffering of the Iraqi people itself.
It seems to me that, presented with the continued suffering of the Iraqi people, the leaders of the Church have clearly, as I have, demand another option. Yet while I have accepted the need for military action, the Church has instead chosen to believe the fantasy that Saddam isn’t inherently evil. This is a fairytale that I cannot accept and by basing one’s position on this reading of Just War Tradition you are additionally actively accepting the status quo. Therefore the choice is not between the evil of war and the good of peace but is instead between two evils. To me the military option is in this case, perhaps unfortunately, the best option.