The Pope, Violence, and Just War

Brad Miner | March 7, 2022

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the very next day Pope Francis quoted his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti in a Tweet, “every war leaves our world worse than it was before. War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil.” This papacy is not very careful in its public statements, but you can share the sentiment while seeing that this formulation is both right and wrong. Yes, every war is, in a sense, a failure. But no, not every resort to arms leaves the world worse off. If it did, the Church would have to preach absolute pacifism, which it does not and never has.

The pope clearly wants to condemn the conflict in Ukraine in general terms about “war” without having to name Russia as the aggressor. In this, anyway, Francis may be acting in a way more faithful to his office as Pontifex, the bridge builder. Instead of acting like a political operator, he’s remaining open to facilitating dialogue between the two sides – however unlikely that it will happen, or make much of a difference.

Still, you want him to just say the obvious truth. It’s not “war” in the abstract that’s evil. It’s Putin.

Francis came a bit closer to the truth yesterday in his Angelus address, tacitly contradicting Russian propaganda, “It is not merely a military operation [Putin’s lie – RR] but a war. . .” Francis clearly meant to reject unjust wars of aggression, and he called for stopping hostilities, permitting civilians to flee, etc. He even made a heartfelt plea along with the announcement that he’s sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine via two Cardinals: “The presence of the two Cardinals there is the presence not only of the Pope, but of all the Christian people who want to get closer and say: ‘War is madness! Stop, please! Look at this cruelty!’”

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