POPE JOHN PAUL II ON VIOLENCE AND LAW
. . .How is the very noble “principle of non-violence” to be evaluated, in the framework of law in general and canon law in particular? It should be pointed out in the first place that this principle, already not alien to the Old Testament, was taught and practiced to the utmost by the Redeemer himself, whom both the prophecies and the Gospels present to us as “a lamb led unjustly to be butchered, without any rebellion or lament on his side.” With regard to acts of violence he even says: “To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (LK 6:29). But in the system of Christian thought the principle of nonviolence has not only a negative aspect (not to meet violence with violence), but also a positive one, which is far superior. It can be said, in fact, that the most Christian of the maxims inculcated by the Redeemer by example and by an explicit precept, is the following: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21), that is, with a good that is even greater (which in contrast turns out to be love).
...Just as man is not destined only to live with others, but also for others, finding in that the highest perfection of his own personality, so each people cannot think exclusively of its own prosperity, but must also contribute to that of other peoples, verifying in this way the real humanity of its own particular civilization. The duty of solidarity, and therefore of love, cannot be alien to law since, being inscribed in the very existential reality of man, it is the first precept of the natural law, after that of love for God.
...In conclusion: just as it is impossible to construct a society with the negative principle of non-violence alone, so it is impossible to construct a “society without law and without a State,” as certain modern utopias promise. But it is certainly possible to construct society based on love; we certainly can and must aim at a universal civilization of love. Here violence will be excluded because it is contrary to the law which is charity: plentitudo legis dilectio (the whole law is summed up in love- Rom. 13:10).
(Excerpted from an address to the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists, December 6th, 1980 as published in the weekly English Edition of L’osservatore Romano, January 26, 1981.)
The Catholic Catechism
1706. By his reason, man recognizes the voice of God which urges him "to do what is good and avoid what is evil." [GS 16] Everyone is obliged to follow this law, which makes itself heard in conscience and is fulfilled in the love of God and of neighbor. Living a moral life bears witness to the dignity of the person.
1782. Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. "He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters." [DH 3 #2]
1790. A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
2106. "Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits." [DH 2 #1] This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order. For this reason it "continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it." [DH 2 #2]
2311. Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way. [Cf. GS 79 #3]
NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS
The Centrality of Conscience
The task of peacemaking requires both just structures and a properly formed conscience. Our policies and structures of peace will reflect the integrity of the individuals who design and participate in them.
For people of faith, this commitment involves a life-long task of reflecting on Sacred Scripture, cultivating virtues, understanding and applying wisely the Church's teaching on peace and praying for guidance. We are grateful for all that has been done in the past decade by so many to help form consciences, and we are aware of how much more we can and must do to better translate our moral reflections on war and peace into informed commitments of conscience.
In this statement, just as in our pastoral letter of ten years ago, we state some universally applicable moral principles that are binding on all persons. For example, it is immoral for a commander to issue or for a soldier to obey a command to intentionally kill non-combatants in war. Concrete applications of universal principles—such as our call to reject the first use of nuclear weapons and the targeting of non-nuclear states, and our call for nuclear disarmament—are judgments about which Catholics may disagree. As we said in the peace pastoral, we "do not presume or pretend that clear answers exist to many of the personal, professional and financial choices" facing those in the military and defense industries. "We seek as moral teachers and pastors to be available to all who confront these
questions of personal and vocational choice." We hope that they will evaluate seriously the moral basis for our specific judgments and the implications for their work. And we will continue to improve our own efforts to offer our support and guidance to these and others who struggle on a daily basis to integrate their faith and their work.
There is also a need to define further the proper relationship between the authority of the state and the conscience of the individual on matters of war and peace. In 1983, we restated our long-standing position on military service:
A citizen may not casually disregard his country's conscientious decision to call its citizens to acts of "legitimate defense." Moreover, the role of Christian citizens in the armed forces is a service to the common good and an exercise of the virtue of patriotism, so long as they fulfill this role within defined moral norms.
"At the same time," we noted, "no state may demand blind obedience." We repeat our support both for legal protection for those who conscientiously refuse to participate in any war (conscientious objectors) and for those who cannot, in good conscience, serve in specific conflicts they consider unjust or in branches of the service (e.g., the strategic nuclear forces) which would require them to perform actions contrary to deeply held moral convictions about indiscriminate killing (selective conscientious objection).
As we hold individuals in high esteem who conscientiously serve in the armed forces, so also we should regard conscientious and selective conscientious objection as positive indicators within the Church of a sound moral awareness and respect for human life.
There is a need to improve the legal and practical protection which this country rightly affords conscientious objectors and, in accord with the just-war tradition, to provide similar legal protection for selective conscientious objectors. Selective conscientious objection poses complex, substantive and procedural problems, which must be worked out by moralists, lawyers and civil servants in a way that respects the rights of conscience without undermining the military's ability to defend the common good. Given the particular problems that arise in the context of an all-volunteer military, individual objectors must exercise their rights in a responsible way, and there must be reliable procedures to verify the validity of their claims. Especially in cases where military service is compulsory, it is appropriate for the government to require alternative service to the community; this may be in or outside a military setting, depending on the abilities and conscience of the particular individual.
(From The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace, November 17, 1993)
For further information, contact: Office of International Justice and Peace, Department of Social Development and World Peace, United States Catholic Conference, 3211 4th Street NE, Washington, DC 20017-1194; www.nccbuscc.org
CATHOLIC PEACE FELLOWSHIP
If there was ever any question as to the right of a Roman catholic to claim the conscientious objector position with regard to war in general or to a specific war, that question has been answered by the bishops of the Church assembled in the Second Vatican Council.
Addressing the problem in the pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Council Fathers wrote: “It seems right that laws make humane provisions for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided, however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way.” (Sec. 79)
Those who renounce violence all together, choosing to live lives of nonviolence, are praised in the Council text: “...we cannot fail to praise those who renounce the use of violence in the vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties, too, provided this can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others or of the community itself.” (Sec. 78)
Roman Catholics share with other Christians the support that Holy Scripture lends to the pacifist. Similarly they share in an historic witness ranging from the early Christians through the present. The voices of the Popes of our own times have repeatedly called us from the way of war to the task of Christian peacemaking, most notably Pope John XXIII in his encyclical letter Pacem in Terris, and Pope Paul VI in his address to the United Nations: “No more war; war never again.” Pius XII in his Christmas message of 1944 bade us “declare war upon war.”
In our own generation these urgings are taking root in the unprecedented number of young Catholics who claim the conscientious objector position, either from the judgement that modern war cannot fulfill the requirements of the traditional “just war” theory or from a realization of the bankruptcy of violence as it has been shown by current history in light of the Gospel of Christ. Christian nonviolence offers many of these young men a way of life in which they feel not only more Christian but more relevant to the world in which they feel not only more Christian but more relevant to the world in which they live. If nothing else could answer the question of whether a Roman Catholic can be a conscientious objector, the rising chorus of young Catholics should shout an unequivocal and undeniable yes.
Catholic young men (and their counselors) are urged to order the booklet “Catholics and Conscientious Objection”, by James H. Forest, published by the Catholic Peace Fellowship, 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012, which bears the imprimatur of the archdiocese of New York. The Catholic Peace Fellowship also offers draft counseling to those interested.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Write to the Catholic Peace Fellowship, 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012.
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF PRIESTS’ COUNCILS Resolution on Education and Counseling on the Draft
WHEREAS on February 15, 1980, the Administrative Board of the United States Catholic Conference issued a statement on the draft, which among other things, called attention to the need for education, consciousness-raising and counseling about this pressing item;
WHEREAS the questions of registration, conscription, and military service involve moral questions of great importance and also bear directly on the moral decision-making of our high school and college-age people;
WHEREAS the conscientious objection position is as valid a moral decision in Catholic teaching as is the decision to enter military service, yet such a choice does not as yet have a secure position in our legal and legislative process;
WHEREAS it is of value to have a place outside one’s own person to state one’s confirmed belief in the matter of conscientious objection;
BE IT RESOLVED, that the NFPC urge its member councils to ask their dioceses to provide draft counseling for high school and college-age people to help them to understand the moral and ethical questions related to the draft;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NFPC urde its member councils to ask the Chancery of their respective dioceses to be official repositories for statements made by those who choose a conscientious objector’s status.
(Resolution of the 1980 NFPC House of Delegates.)
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Write to National Federation of Priest’s Councils, 1307 South Wabash Avenue. Chicago, IL 60605.
Pax Christi USA
Pax Christi USA Supports The Rights of Conscientious Objectors; Calls For Speedy Passage of The Military CO Act of 1992
Pax Christi USA unreservedly endorses The Military Conscientious Objector Act of 1992 authored by Representative Ron Dellums. This Bill will, for the first time, bring US law in line with the Church's position, as well as that of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, both of which affirm the right to refuse to participate in a particular war based on conscience.
The procedural and administrative disregard for the rights of conscientious objectors evident during the Gulf war make clear the inadequacy of the current system of military regulation of conscientious objection. This Bill will take what are now only discretionary regulations within each branch of the military, and raise them to the level of Federal Law, thereby greatly reducing the chance for any repeat of the abuses that occurred during the Gulf war.
As the motivation behind, and conduct of, contemporary war prove increasingly immoral, the need to affirm the individual conscience as the ultimate authority for individual action becomes even more essential. One no longer need be an absolute pacifist to recoil at
participation in the kind of modern warfare which leaves hundreds of God's people, including women and children, dead and dying in a devastated country like Iraq.
Since its beginning in 1971, Pax Christi USA, as part of the International Catholic Peace Movement, has been articulating and supporting the rights of individuals to choose life over death, to serve their country honorably through alternative civilian service when conscription was in use, and to be honorably discharged from voluntary military service when an individual's sincere convictions no longer allow them to participate in warmaking. Moreover, Pax Christi USA has supported the right to refuse to participate in a particular
In the aftermath of the Gulf war, more than 400 Pax Christi local groups and individuals around the nation responded to the call for support of those imprisoned for their beliefs. In support of this proposed legislation, Pax Christi USA intends to redouble its efforts nationwide to vocalize support for what we believe is an essential recognition of the dignity of the individual—the inalienable right to refuse to kill.
(Press Release, March 24, 1992)
PAX CHRISTI- USA CENTER ON CONSCIENCE AND WAR
...What choices are there?
Conscientious participation—You may believe that it’s right to register now and even decide later to enlist in the military or to accept induction if the draft returns. If you do eventually enter the military, the need to make hard decisions of conscience doesn’t end. Catholic teaching holds that certain acts of war, such as direct attack on civilians, are wrong and that orders to commit them must be refused.
Conscientious objection (and other deferments)-- You may register even though you believe it’s wrong to participate in war, which means you’re a “conscience objector” (CO)... You can’t apply for CO or other deferments now, but you should begin to learn more about them even if you are not sure you qualify.
Conscientious refusal- You may believe that you cannot, in conscience, register for the draft at all. Many Catholics chose not to register during Vietnam, and few in previous wars, for a variety of reasons... If you do decide not to register, Pax Christi will support you in this, as in any conscientious choice, in whatever way we can.
Can Catholics be conscientious objects? YES! For the first two centuries the Church was almost universally opposed to Christian participation in war. Many Catholics in later centuries, including such saints as Francis of Assisi and Martin of Tours, rejected military service. In our own century, a growing number of American Catholics have been
recognized as CO’s... The Catholic Church teaches two forms of conscientious objection: general, opposition to all wars, and selective, refusal to serve in a particular war which you consider to be unjust...
(Excerpted from “Catholic Conscience and Registration for the Draft”)
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Write to Pax Christi—USA Ctr. On Conscience and War, Box 726-S Bigelow St., Cambridge , MA 02139.