Catholic World Report

Cardinal Parolin: ‘War is the antithesis of fraternity’

By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

Cardinal Pietro Parolin's video message to Climate Adaptation Summit Jan. 25, 2021. YouTube Screenshot.

The Vatican’s secretary of state on Thursday encouraged nations to pursue arms control and nuclear disarmament as a means to promote peace and fraternity among all people.

In a video message for an online event on fraternity, multilateralism, and peace April 15, Cardinal Pietro Parolin stated that “it is not rhetorical to say that war is the antithesis of fraternity.”

He said the Holy See strongly encourages States to work toward lasting agreements on disarmament and arms control.

“If the affirmation that we are all brothers and sisters is valid, how can nuclear deterrence be the basis of an ethic of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples?” Parolin stated.

The high-level online event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Order of Malta to the United Nations, the International Catholic Migration Commission, the Pontifical Lateran University, the Caritas in Veritate Foundation and the Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs.

Other speakers during the online meeting included heads of UN agencies and international organizations, and Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Cardinal Parolin said in his address at the opening of the event that “the huge sums of money and human resources allocated to armaments make us reflect.”

“The disproportion between material resources and human talents dedicated to the service of death and the resources dedicated to the service of life is a cause for scandal,” he said.

Parolin referenced Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti, which is about human fraternity.

“To fully understand the concept of fraternity and its declination in the multilateral diplomatic action of the Holy See, it may be useful to go back to the start of Pope Francis’s pontificate,” he said.

“It will be remembered that fraternity is the first theme to which the pope referred on the day of his election, more than eight years ago, when he expressed this desire: ‘Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity.’”

According to Parolin, “all the subsequent actions and activities of the Pontificate were a natural and coherent consequence of a path oriented towards this.”

“In multilateral action, fraternity translates into the courage and generosity to freely establish certain common objectives and to ensure the fulfillment throughout the world of some essential norms, by virtue of the Latin phrase pacta sunt servanda,” he continued.

“Today, unfortunately, there is an urgent need to strengthen the dissemination and promotion of respect for humanitarian law,” the cardinal said, explaining that humanitarian law aims to safeguard “essential principles of humanity” in the context of war, which is “inhumane and dehumanizing.”

Humanitarian laws do this, he said, by “protecting the civilian population and banning weapons which inflict suffering as atrocious as it is useless.”

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  1. In 1982 Pope St. John Paul II addressed the Second Special Session of the United Nations dedicated to disarmament (“Negotiation: The Only Realistic Solution to the Continuing Threat of War” [Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1982]): “In current conditions ‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable” (p. 10).

    In 1983 and 1984 three national Episcopal conferences (synods?) then produced their own non-doctrinal pastoral letters on nuclear weapons. Important differences between three of these three were on framing the problem itself, i.e., on the risk of collateral damage or the “slippery slope” (American, which in early drafts tilted toward unilateral disarmament), on the strategic imbalance of conventional armaments (tanks) on the eastern front (“Out of Justice, Peace,” Joint Pastoral Letter of the West German Bishops), and on the intrinsic and underlying threat of Marxist ideology (Joint Pastoral Letter of the French Bishops, “Winning the Peace”).

    Much has changed in the “current conditions” of 1982, and much has not. Besides the passage of nearly half a century and even a certain amount of arms reduction, but now a multipolar world with the proliferation of the atomic bomb to probably eight nations, what are the other conditions that might invalidate or reshape some kind of still-valid “deterrence”? With Cardinal Parolin’s call for “courage and generosity,” what do urgent, new, and searching prudential judgments actually look like, other than being framed as the rhetorical Hegelian “antithesis of fraternity”?

    …As when even the role of merely “humanitarian law” and “the essential principles of humanity” are both ignored and rejected by some of the multilateral parties? With Dostoevsky: “Indeed, there is no ‘compelling argument’ not to slit anybody’s throat except for the Commandments given on Mount Sinai.”

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