Pope Francis: ‘I believe it is time to rethink the concept of a just war’

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA


Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, June 25, 2022 / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Jul 1, 2022 / 10:26 am (CNA).

In an interview published Friday, Pope Francis said that he believes it is time to rethink the concept of “just war.”

“I believe it is time to rethink the concept of a ‘just war.’ A war may be just, there is the right to defend oneself. But we need to rethink the way that the concept is used nowadays,” Pope Francis said.

“I have said that the use and possession of nuclear weapons are immoral. Resolving conflicts through war is saying no to verbal reasoning, to being constructive. … War is essentially a lack of dialogue.”

The pope spoke in an interview that was conducted on June 20 by Télam, Argentina’s national news agency. A 1-hour video of the interview was published on July 1.

In response to a question about how the lack of dialogue is an aggravating factor in the current state of world affairs, the pope said that there is “an entire infrastructure of arms sales” that supports war today.

“A person who knew about statistics told me, I don’t remember the numbers well, that if weapons were not manufactured for a year, there would be no hunger in the world,” he said.

Pope Francis described how he cried during visits to war cemeteries in Europe, including the Redipuglia World War I memorial and Anzio World War II cemetery in Italy.

“And when the anniversary of the landing in Normandy was commemorated, I thought of the 30,000 boys who were left dead on the beach. They opened the boats and said, ‘get off, get off,’ they were ordered while the Nazis waited for them. Is that justified? Visiting military cemeteries in Europe helps one realize this,” he said.

The pope also said that the situation in Europe today shows that the United Nations “has no power” to stop a war.

“After World War II, trust was placed in the United Nations. It is not my intention to offend anybody, I know there are very good people working there, but at this point, the UN has no power to assert,” he said.

“It does help to avoid wars — and I am thinking of Cyprus, where there are Argentine troops. But to stop a war, to solve a conflict situation like the one we are living today in Europe, or like the ones lived in other parts of the world, it has no power.”

Church teaching on the morality of war is based on a theory expounded by St. Augustine in the 4th century known as just war theory and recognizes a potentially just reason to engage in war under certain conditions.

Theologians told CNA in 2019 that applying this theory to modern warfare, which often involves missile and air strikes rather than pitched battles between troops, is more complicated, yet normative.

The papal interview touched on a number of themes, including the Covid-19 pandemic, intergenerational dialogue, and climate change.

“You can rest assured that God always forgives, and we, men, forgive every now and then. But nature never forgives. It pays us back. If we use nature for our profit, it will bear down on us. A warmed-up world prevents the construction of a fraternal and just society,” the pope said.

When asked about the Catholic Church in Latin America, the pope said that it has a long history of being “close to the people.”

Pope Francis said: “In a way, this is the experience of the Latin American Church, although there have been attempts of ideologization, such as the use of Marxist concepts in the analysis of reality by Liberation Theology. That was an ideological exploitation …”

“There is a difference between the people and populisms,” he added.

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  1. The pope says that the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral. Immorality doesn’t’ exist in a vacuum, so what person or persons are guilty of this immorality in the United States? Is it the politicians who vote for the funding of the weapons, the military men in the missile silos, the crew on the nuclear submarines?
    You can’t just throw out statements like this, without some particulars.
    This pope is constantly throwing out personal opinions that people will take for Church teachings. If this is Church teaching (which I don’t think it is) it should not be just thrown out there in an interview.
    I have thought for some time that it would be good if this pope only issued statements at most once a week, instead of seemingly every day. That way he could give them more thought.

  2. We read: “A person who knew about statistics told me, I don’t remember the numbers well, that if weapons were not manufactured for a year, there would be no hunger in the world.”

    Not to argue the main point, but simply to add some precision to move the conversation along. The total annual worldwide military budget (including, but not limited to weapons manufacture) is now $2.1 Trillion. The total population of the world is 7.8 Billion. So totally converting guns to butter (as economists say) amounts to $260 per person per year, or a dollar per day. And, yet, this revenue transfer does not transform local economies and corrupt local politics.

    Compared to the total fatalities cited for Normandy, the total number killed by totalitarian regimes is estimated at 100,000,000. Stalin, for example, summarized both his deliberate project [!] and our numbed minds: “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” And, yet, we are asked whether the invasion of Normandy was “justified.”

    Might we be reminded, also, of St. Pope John Paul II’s seasoned perspective on such imponderables? Of the Polish backbone during Hitler’s Blitzkrieg invasion (the mere “lack of dialogue”?)—when there was “clear inferiority” (surely a violation of Augustine’s “just war doctrine”)—he still finds that Polish resistance was heroic. Justified, because the “Polish authorities judged that this was the only way to defend the future of Europe and the European spirit” (“Memory and Identity,” 2005, p.141). More was on the table than debatable real estate and calculated probabilities; there’s more than one kind of “hunger in the world.”

    Pope Francis’ moral intuitions are well taken, and the world is in a deep hole; but from the Holy See, perhaps something more beckoning than these drive-by epigrams.

    • Fine-tuning the above numbers, today the share of the world population that is undernourished is 8.9 percent (2019), down {!) from 15.0 percent (2000-2004). Or about 690 million souls. If the windfall from totally dismantling all things military were to go to this 8.9 percent (e.g., and none to the new jobless), then the dollar amount per person would be about $8.00 per day, rather than less than “a dollar per day” ($0.70). A big boost, especially given the exchange rate in national currencies.

      Just suggesting that expressing narrative policies in terms of actual numbers/decimal points requires equal literacy in both languages, a skill-set not much in vogue especially ever since the U.S. went off the gold standard in 1972.

      • Oh, but wait. The immediate concern is “weapons manufactured.”

        If this means the international arms trade, then we’re talking $200 Billion/year, or one tenth of the total global military budget referenced above ($2.1 Trillion/year). For the undernourished 690 million souls, this figure pencils out no longer at $8.00/day, but only $0.80/day. Damn. The trade amplifies everything violent, except when it serves as a deterrent to tyranny. A hair-trigger world we have made for ourselves.

        I’m reminded, finally, of the scene in the movie “Dr. Zhivago,” where in the howling wintertime Uriatin, Lara complains that it is a “horrible time to be alive,” but Yuri examines ice crystals on the moonlit window and finds that life is still beautiful.

        Likewise, in our very fallen world, to a camp guard in the Gulag, a real prisoner defended the forbidden works of Pasternak: “If the whole world were to be covered with asphalt, one day a crack would appear in the asphalt, and in that crack grass would grow” (Cited in Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday, Random House, 1964).

  3. Papa peacenik! What about the war against our eternal soul? Should that not be addressed first and foremost by Papa?

    Ecclesiastes 3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

    Matthew 24:6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

    Romans 7:21-25 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

    Jeremiah 51:20 “You are my hammer and weapon of war: with you I break nations in pieces; with you I destroy kingdoms;

    Exodus 15:3 The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.

    Proverbs 21:31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.

    Psalm 144:1-2 Of David. Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.

    And yet, we are to aim for peace within our selves and to pray for the wellbeing of others.

    Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

    Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

    Prayers for him as he carries a large burden. May the Lord guide his steps, not to mention all who love the Lord.

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