by Robert Emmet Meagher, The Boston Globe
What could possibly be more harmless and perhaps even helpful than for the pope to offer his opinion that “the unjust aggressor [Islamic State fighters] must be stopped”? What began as a moral truism, however, soon proved problematic. When asked for clarification, specifically whether he approved of the US airstrikes on radical Islamist forces in northern Iraq, Pope Francis added these not exactly harmless or helpful words: “In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say this: It is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underline the verb: stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means. With what means can they be stopped? These have to be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit.”
The first result of these words would be confusion. What could he possibly mean by “stop” that would not involve lethal force? The Islamic State forces, we know all too well, possess advanced weaponry, including M1 tanks and surface-to-air missiles, and have shown no scruples in using them. They are not, in short, pacifists. Clearly, the “means” of stopping them must, in the pope’s words, “be evaluated.” But by whom? This the pope leaves to others, and there have been no shortage of them.
First, from within the pope’s own circle, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva, went on record as saying “Maybe military action is necessary at this moment.” No mere paraphrase of the Holy Father’s views. “Necessary” is not the same as “licit” and “military action” sounds an awful lot like the “war” the pope ruled out. To complicate matters further, the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq, Monsignor Giorgio Lingua, when asked about the US airstrikes, replied that “it’s good when you’re able to at the very least remove weapons from these people who have no scruples.” And exactly how is this to be accomplished? True enough, David was able to disarm Saul as he slept, but we cannot count on Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s being such a heavy sleeper…