During the recent U.S. Catholic bishops fall assembly in Baltimore, two bishops decided to forego the military chaplains dinner sponsored by the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains Office, and attended instead a simple supper and discussion on peacemaking.
On the evening of Nov. 11, at historic St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Baltimore, Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis and Bishop John Michael Botean, head of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy (diocese) of St. George in Canton, Ohio, broke bread with about 20 Catholic peace activists including myself, and dialogued with us about how the Catholic Church could shift from a “just war” to a “just peace” doctrine and spirituality.
Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, started the dialogue off with a presentation on the theological developments of the concept of “just peace.”
He explained that by supporting cooperative conflict resolution, fostering just and sustainable economic development, advancing human rights and interdependence, significantly reducing weapons and the arms trade, education in nonviolent peacemaking and resistance, and nonviolent civilian-based defense we can help advance a peace founded on social justice and nonviolence.
He said, “War continues to create habits of war.” As we quickly move from one armed conflict to the next, this observation is beyond dispute.
Archbishop Tobin said, “War dehumanizes us.” To powerfully illustrate his point he said that during World War II, U.S. General Curtis LeMay, who planned and executed a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan, said that Japanese make good kindling tinder.
LeMay also said, “Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”
Bishop Botean said during the Chinese invasion of Tibet no one would have expected the Dalai Lama to tell his followers to take up arms to fight the Chinese. No one would have expected him to espouse violence. But in contrast, the general population does not expect Catholics to refuse the taking up of arms. In light of the nonviolent Jesus, there’s something wrong with this picture.
Bishop Botean also mentioned that he personally has given every U.S. Catholic bishop a copy of the prophetic book “Christian Just War Theory: The Logic of Deceit.” It’s definitely worth reading.
McCarthy reminded us that Jesus is the preeminent model of “just peace” in his “caring for the outcasts, loving and forgiving enemies, challenging the religious, political, economic and military powers, along with risking and offering his life on the cross to expose and transcend both injustice and violence.”
He added that Jesus’ new commandment to “love as I have loved you,” is a command to nonviolently love neighbors, strangers and even enemies.
A key question to ask ourselves according to McCarthy is “What kinds of people are we becoming?”
Are we becoming more understanding, forgiving, just, generous, compassionate, gracious, and peaceful? Do we love everyone unconditionally as God does? Are there sides to us as individuals and as a society that harbor selfishness, greed, anger, vengeance, violence, and indifference?
It was encouraging to hear two bishops and 20 lay people struggling with their consciences to discern how best to challenge the church and themselves to relinquish all ties to war and war preparation.
It would be well for all Christians to undertake a similar discernment, and honestly ask ourselves what the nonviolent Jesus is calling us to do.
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.