On Catholics and Peace: Pope Francis and the 21st Century


The final segment in this series details the modern adaptations of peace in the Catholic Church including the recent writings of Pope Francis.  A detailed bibliography has been append to the end of this post.  I hope you enjoyed this series and found it educational and informational.  May the dogma of the Catholic Church always live loudly from within you,

Pope John Paul II’s messages on peace given to the United Nations General Assembly and Pope John XXIII’s messages before that are very similar to Rome’s modern-day discussion of peace and justice.  The moral argument of “do not commit murder” is still highly utilized, but it has been joined with a new argument of justice among men and women.

Pope Francis referred to the Sacred Scripture in his first World Peace Day Celebration when he detailed that humans must go beyond the idea that “peace is an absence of war.”  Humans must treat everyone with dignity and respect for it is written in the Gospels: “you must not be called ‘Teacher,’ because you are all equal and have only one Teacher,” And it is written in the Acts of the Apostles: “from one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth,” and because “God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean or defiled.”  These commandments show that we cannot rank people based off income, race, sex, or creed.

This has been the argument of Pope Francis, and it is like that of the Catholic Worker Movement: if there is no justice, there is no peace.    Even though war is still highly prevalent throughout the world, there is a larger issue in the debate of peace: the issue of inequality. As Americans, we live in a time where people are more equal than at any other point in history, but there is still more to be done.  Pope Francis has criticized the capitalist system, particularly the American version of the system, as the “dung of the devil” and has called for a new economic order for the “sacred rights” of the poor.  This criticism is part of the development of his version of “just peace,” a relatively new concept which means that the peace is only exists when everyone is treated as equal and justice has been served.

Pope Francis strongly believes governments have the responsibility to bring about this “just peace.”  He said in his encyclical Lumen Fidei that “faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law and peace.”  However, as we have seen here, the lay ministries of the Church seem to have more influence in bringing about changes in policy.  The Catholic Association for International Peace and the Catholic Worker Movement had major influences on the USCCB’s pastoral letter.

Even now, both lay Catholics and bishops are arguing about the Church’s stance on peace.  Most recently, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has called for a new debate on just war theory and non-violence.  Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of that council, has called on Pope Francis to renounce the Church’s teaching on just war doctrine and asked Pope Francis to write an encyclical on non-violence and “just peace.”

Whether Pope Francis or any future pontificates choose to do this is left up to debate by theologians, historians, and philosophers.  In the meantime, we can establish the move of Catholic peace theory from Saint Augustine to Pope Francis. Much like the Church itself, it is a living institution, open to scientific advancements and historical movements.  It is likely that in the future we will see a move towards non-violence and “just peace” as Cardinal Turkson has called for. However, just war theory has been called upon and cited in many papal documents and the USCCB letter regarding nuclear weapons.  It will likely continue to be the foundation of Catholic peace theory, but overall, there will be a move towards the use of war and conflict as a last resort. However, there will always be at least two sides to a debate. Just as CAIP and CWM had differing ideas, the American Bishops and other organizations and peoples will have opposing views.  

Related to modern international relations, the idea of justice as peace is still developing.  When Pope Francis’ was elected as the new pontificate there began a new push equality and a new realization of the power that mankind has to take life.  The new positions on equality is very similar to the positions of the Catholic Worker Movement: non-violence and poverty. It is said in Proverbs: “The rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.”  Pope Francis, and to same extent previous pontificates before him such as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, have addressed the problems of the times.  Pope Benedict XVI criticised capitalistic ideas and how they hurt the world’s most vulnerable.  

Cardinal Turkson is heading in the wrong direction when he says we should reject just war theory.  Pope Francis’ views on justice and inequality are very compatible with just war theory, specifically jus post bellum.  After the two most devastating wars ever on this planet, mankind seems to be stuck in a jus post bellum.  If jus post bellum truly means “justice after the war” we should always be in this stage until a “just peace” exists.  War crimes tribunals, truth and reconciliation committees, and evolution of the laws of war are some examples of staying in a just society.  

I’ll end with a paragraph from Gaudium et Spes speaking on the future of mankind.  Recall that this encyclical was written after World War II.  

That while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself.

All of the pontificates have said something similar to this; we must be wary of evil and work for the good of another, love one another.

Detailed Bibliography



Published by Matthew Handley

Matthew Handley is the Executive Director of EPIC Radio and is the general manager of its radio station in Wake Forest. He invites you to comment on his posts and to follow him on Twitter (@realHandlez).

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