Rorate Caeli

“Pope's words on War and Peace are a Radical Shift for the Catholic Church.”

Prof. Massimo Cacciari is one of the most influential living philosophers in Italy. An agnostic with a career in politics (he was the mayor of his hometown, Venice, for almost 12 years), he is nevertheless one of those secular Italians deeply in love with the Church since he knows that there would have been no Civilization without Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Church, and the Papacy. The very election of Francis made him so happy that he declared to be almost convinced of the "existence of the Holy Spirit."

We post, for the record of current events and their lasting repercussions, an interview granted by Cacciari to major Italian daily La Repubblica on the Pope's words on the concept of just war and the current situation of persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria.

First, for reference purposes, here are Pope Francis' words, from his interview in the flight back to Rome from Korea, involving the concept of just war

Alan Holdren: Your Holiness, my name is Alan Holdren, I work for Catholic News Agency, ACI Prensa in Lima, Peru, and EWTN. As you know, United States military forces have just begun to bomb terrorists in Iraq in order to prevent a genocide, to protect the future of minorities – I’m also thinking of the Catholics in your care. Do you approve of this American bombing?

Pope Francis: Thank you for your very clear question. In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I emphasize the word: “stop”. I’m not saying drop bombs, make war, but stop the aggressor. The means used to stop him would have to be evaluated. Stopping an unjust aggressor is licit. But we also need to remember! How many times, with this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor, the powers have taken over peoples and carried on an actual war of conquest! One nation alone cannot determine how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there was the idea of the United Nations: that is where discussion was to take place, to say: Is this an unjust aggressor? It would seem so. How do we stop him?” This alone, nothing else. Second, minorities. Thanks for using that word. Because people say to me: “the Christians, the poor Christians…” And it is true, they are suffering, and martyrs, yes, there are many martyrs. But there are also men and women, religious minorities, not all Christians, and all are equal before God. To stop an unjust aggressor is a right of humanity, but it is also a right of the aggressor to be stopped in order not to do evil.

Now, the words of Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon and Primate of the Gauls, in an interview granted to Italian news website TGCom24 and published on Thursday:

The French Conference of Bishops, and also Chaldean Patriarch Sako, have clearly asked for a military intervention. Do you believe that this is an indispensable path to follow?

The (military - TGCom editor's note) intervention has taken place. The Patriarch himself considered it insufficient. Obviously, it is with grief in their hearts that bishops approve or ask for the use of weapons. John Paul II had explained it well at the time of the Balkan war that pacifism stands at times in contrast with the advancement of peace. What Pope Francis asks for is that the advance of the Islamic State of the Levant and its supposed caliph be ''stopped." Briefly, that they be prevented from inflicting damage, as they have already done. ...

Do you wish to make an appeal to the international community?

I don't know it it's the case of making yet another appeal. So many have been made, and they have reached their goal. Now is the time to act, to set everything in motion: come to the aid of the immediate needs of the displaced populations, make ISIS disappear, find a political solution for the future of Iraq with political and military actions. ...


Finally, the interview granted by Massimo Cacciari regarding the Pope's words and the concept of just war.

“The Pope's words on war and peace? A radical shift for the Catholic Church.”

Massimo Cacciari

An interview by Simonetta Fiori for
La Repubblica
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

“It is a radical shift in the political theology of the Church. For the first time, Francis has abandoned the Catholic idea of a 'just war'.” Massimo Cacciari interprets the words from the Pope on the Iraqi tragedy as “an epoch-making innovation.” The Pope sustained that it is licit to stop the violence by the followers of the Islamic caliphate. Stop it, not start a war. And the methods of stopping it need to be decided on by the United Nations. Essentially [the Pope] is appealing to an international organism. 

“However this is quite a problem . A Pope who starts reasoning along the lines of realism and on the basis of positive law, generates a theological question. This is not a criticism. It is simply an observation about the enormous changes going on inside the Church.”

SF: What are you referring to?

MC: With those words Pope Francis has completely abandoned the Catholic idea of a “just war”. When I ascertain that war needs to be based on international law, whose effective organ is represented by the United Nations, it no longer makes any sense to speak of a “just war”. The category of “the just” has nothing to do with positive law.

SF: Are you saying that “the just” is connected to absolute values?

MC: Of course. The theoretical and theological dignity of the “just war” is based on absolute and non-relative values, that are not decided by the United Nations.

SF: Are you referring to the principle of St. Augustine’s bellum justum, which deduced the legitimacy of war not on the basis of the law but on the will of God?

MC: Yes, you are stating it in more radical terms, but it is exactly that. In order to speak of a “just war” I must recognize the will of God in that conflict, not trust in international law, which is created by agreement among national positive laws.

SF: Pope Francis never speaks about a “just war”, on the contrary, he rejects the word war. And rules out any bombing. But his theoretical position doesn’t seem to be far from the notion of a “just war” elaborated by Norberto Bobbio, which was based on juridical grounds: military intervention can be a means to defend the rights of the peoples under attack.

MC: Yes, there is a similarity. Bobbio expressed a secular principle where military intervention is necessary to safeguard human rights. However, if what we have said until now is correct – that is, that Francis considers intervention legitimate according to the measures decided by the United Nations – we are in the presence of a secularization of the Catholic idea of a “just war”. I see no difference either in the position sustained by all the European governments during the Gulf War. We are talking here about a secular trivialization of the “just war”.

SF: But why trivialization? A Pope cannot call for war, so he is trying to wake up governments.

MC: I’m speaking from the political theological point of view: Francis’ position is extremely fragile. His is a position that [Italian Prime-Minister Matteo] Renzi or [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel could support. If I may say so, I expect something more from the Pope, that he tell me of the need for an intervention on the basis of values deemed absolute. A great medieval pope , if there was a slaughter of Christians like the one going on now, would be set for a crusade. Fortunately, the present Pope is not. Francis reasons in realistic terms. However he is setting up a theological problem for the Church.

SF: In the 1990s also Wojtyla had maintained the need for military intervention as extrema ratio. And faced with the siege of Sarajevo used the same formula as Francis: let’s stop the unjust aggressors.

MC: However, his was still a traditional idea of a “just war”. Wojtyla was the last great medieval Pope, who closed an extraordinary century. His history belongs to the tragedies of the 20th century. He was the Pope who challenged the Communist empire. Francis is the Jesuit Pope who recognizes the decline of the West with great realism. And he fears that the Iraqi conflict could make evangelization difficult, especially in those regions.

SF: In the 20th century the relationship between the Church and war was controversial. Benedict XV stigmatized the Great War as “a useless slaughter”, but the military chaplains in the trenches were using little images that promoted the conflict.

MC: True. This is history that re-proposes the contradictions in the Church. Today we are witnessing a great cultural change: as far as the questions of war and peace are concerned, the Catholic Church is merging with the positions of positive law which is the same as the secularists’. And it is not a coincidence that this change is being accomplished by a Jesuit Pope: it is the position of one who wants to have a say – according to the tradition of that Order – on the political level of immanence.

SF: The emphasis that he made on the “third world war” is also significant.

MC: A world war is a conflict among the great powers, what does that have to do with this case? Anyway, the Pontiff wanted to warn us: attention: wars are spreading, we cannot stand idly watching these massacres day in and day out. The katèchon is missing: i.e. the power to restrain the slaughtering and genocide. The Pope is calling on this power.

[Translation by contributor Francesca Romana]