From the Director - Is it time for the Church to try another way?

Columban Fr Gary Walker

In April, 2016 participants convened at the Vatican for the conference ‘Non Violence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pax Christi International and other Catholic organizations from around the world sponsored the first-of-its-kind assembly.

The head of the Pontifical Council, Cardinal Peter Turkson, opened the conference with a warm message of support from Pope Francis, who said, “Your thoughts on revitalizing the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution.”

The age old question, can war ever be justified has been debated many times and in more recent times included the invasions of Iraq and Syria.

The ambition of the 80 delegates was to begin a paradigm shift in Catholic Church teaching away from considering war as a valid response to a situation and to develop non-violent resistance as the appropriate Church response.

The Catholic Church has never agreed that it can be morally acceptable to target civilians in a military action but  left the door open with a qualifying statement  - ‘ unless it is accidental’. However, the nature of modern warfare would seem to negate this possibility as having any relevance these days as research shows that more civilians die in wars now than soldiers.

Max Born, the 1954 Nobel Laureate in Physics pointed out that soldiers accounted for 95% of deaths in World War I but in World War II 52% of all deaths were military personnel. In the Korean War in the 1950’s civilian casualties were 84%. The conference argued that civilians are now the primary targets with evidence of hundreds of thousands dead and wounded in Iraq and Syria.

Warfare has changed, it seems to have no boundaries; it seems to have few rules. People tremble knowing a terrorist attack could happen anywhere, at any time, targeting anyone. Technology has enabled us to create weapons which are small and devastatingly powerful. The question of can war ever be justified, should include, must we live in a permanent state of war? This is truly a devastating realisation.

Is it time for the Church to try another way? Change will not negate the need for military defence but the Church especially needs to explore the non-violent resistance way. We are desperate for new solutions because violence does not necessarily solve our problems.

The gathering ended three days later with a dramatic consensus process that called on the pope to issue an encyclical -  a major Catholic church document - on active nonviolence.

God bless you.

Fr Gary Walker SSC

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