Month: May 2007

Just War, Pacifism and Catholic Tradition

The discussion of Michael J. Iafrate’s (anti) Memorial Day post has developed into a general war of dueling opinions on such topics as nationalism and patriotism in the life of the Catholic citizen, as well as the legitimacy of war (or the used of armed force) within Catholic tradition and especially in contemporary times.

Distinction between “Violence” and a Legitimate Use of Force?

In “They Shed Their Own Blood” (Vox Nova 5/30/2007), Nate Wildermuth (The Lamb and the Dragon), adopts a stance of absolute pacifism and enlists John Paul II and Pope Benedict in the ranks:

Benedict claims that Christ’s victory on the cross isn’t merely a cosmic realignment of spiritual scales that allows us to get into heaven while condemning us to hell on earth. No. Christ’s victory defeats evil in this world. Christ’s love defeats violence in this world – individually, socially, and yes – even politically.

War and violence – killing – have never and will never purchase freedom or peace. While condoning violence as an ultimately futile form of self-defense, the Church always has and always will proclaim that true freedom and true peace come through Christ and Christ’s love alone.

A glaring problem with the absolute condemnation of violence is the notable neglect (failure) to acknowledge a legitimate use of force. Katerina (Evangelical Catholicism) muses in the combox:

As Pope Benedict XVI says in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, violence can never be considered part of or an expression of love.

I don’t know how you can even try to marry violence to Christian charity.

prompting Michael Denton (For the Greater Glory) to ask the obvious:

It would probably also help me if you or Nate would define “violence.” Are you using the defintion as “any act of aggression or force against another person” or do you have a more narrow definition?

No “Just War” Possible in Reality?

Extolling the virtues of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, Tim Heugerich (Catholics for Democracy) replies:

George Weigel represents an different view on war than is currently the Church’s teaching. If you agree with his position, that’s fine, but realize that it’s contradicted by the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops. (I also think it’s wrong, shaped by an America-first perspective.)

Which I have to wonder is truly the case, given that Weigel’s recognition that armed force can be used for good or evil has a correlation in a document by the U.S. Catholic Bishops:

Our conference’s approach, as outlined in The Challenge of Peace, can be summarized in this way:

1. In situations of conflict, our constant commitment ought to be, as far as possible, to strive for justice through nonviolent means.

2. But, when sustained attempts at nonviolent action fail to protect the innocent against fundamental injustice, then legitimate political authorities are permitted as a last resort to employ limited force to rescue the innocent and establish justice.

Despite areas of convergence between a nonviolent ethic and a just-war ethic, however, we acknowledge the diverse perspectives within our Church on the validity of the use of force. Many believe just-war thinking remains valid because it recognizes that force may be necessary in a sinful world, even as it restrains war by placing strict moral limits on when, why and how this force may be used. Others object in principle to the use of force, and these principled objections to the just-war tradition are sometimes joined with other criticisms that just-war criteria have been ineffective in preventing unjust acts of war in recent decades and that these criteria cannot be satisfied under the conditions of modern warfare.

Likewise, there are diverse points of view within the Catholic community on the moral meaning and efficacy of a total commitment to nonviolence in an unjust world. Clearly some believe that a full commitment to nonviolence best reflects the Gospel commitment to peace. Others argue that such an approach ignores the reality of grave evil in the world and avoids the moral responsibility to actively resist and confront injustice with military force if other means fail. Both the just-war and nonviolent traditions offer significant moral insight, but continue to face difficult tests in a world marked by so much violence and injustice. Acknowledging this diversity of opinion, we reaffirm the Church’s traditional teaching on the ethical conditions for the use of force by public authority.

(Source: The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace: A Reflection of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Tenth Anniversary of The Challenge of Peace November 17, 1993.

Interesting thing about that particular document, observed just war historian James Turner Johnson, is that while the Bishops of 1993 asserted that “when sustained attempts at nonviolent action fail to protect the innocent against fundamental injustice, legitimate political authorities are permitted as a last resort to employ limited force to rescue the innocent and establish justice”, this criteria played no part in the USCCB’s deliberations in 2002-2003 (Using Military Force Against the Saddam Hussein Regime: the Moral Issues Foreign Policy Research Institute. December 4, 2002).

In Is War Just?, Morning’s Minion conveys his agreement with Cardinal Ratzinger’s then-speculation in 2003 that “given the new weapons that make possible destruction that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a just war.” (Zenit News Service May 2, 2003).

But again, this speculation was made by the same author who had a direct hand in editing the formal Catechism of the Catholic Church, which left the just war criteria intact and recognized that

“Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. ” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 2265

As I noted in Pope Benedict, Modern Weaponry and Civilian Casualties Just War? June 18, 2005, this observation, simply because it was uttered by the Prefect of the CDF, is not in itself impervious to reasoned criticism, by those far more competent on such matters than I).

* * *

Michael Denton has already responded to Nate Wildermuth’s post with Onward Christian Soldiers! – A Discussion on War & Violence in Catholicism, by For the Greater Glory May 30, 2007.

I have to admit that part of me finds posting on this topic a little tedious, simply because they seem to be revisiting subjects and questions I’ve blogged about since, well, 2002. I’m sure it will likely bore a few of my regular readers as well (“oh, great, another ‘just war’ post). So I’ll take the liberty of linking to a few key posts and articles which may serve as impetus for further discussion both here and on Vox Nova.

In doing so, I prefer to bracket the specific discussion of the justification for the Iraq War (an ongoing and as yet unresolved debate that has been waged since 2002) and focus rather on the fundamental question of whether there is such a thing as “a legitimate use of force” or whether all armed force is reducable to violence:

  • “Force of Law, Law of Force”, by George Weigel. The Catholic Difference April 30, 2003:

    In classic Catholic thought, armed force is not intrinsically suspect, morally speaking. Classic Catholic thinking about world politics understands that armed force can be used for good or evil, depending on who’s using it, why, to what purposes, and how. Armed force is one instrument among the many available to prudent statecraft. Other instruments should be tried first. But the use of armed force under certain specific circumstances – defined by the just war tradition – can serve the rule of law, not wreck it.

    According to Weigel, war itself (the employment of armed force) is not understood as an evil but as a neutral moral category:

    . . . it is the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force for public ends by publicly accountable public authorities who have a moral obligation to defend those for whom they have assumed responsibility; and that “war” (bellum) must be rigorously distinguished from brigandage, piracy, terrorism, and other forms of duellum, the use of armed force by private persons for private ends.

    See also “Getting Just War Straight” (September 28, 2006), on rival notions of just war.

    (The best explication of Weigel’s thought on just war remains, IMHO, Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (Oxford University Press, 1989) — an analysis of “Catholic thought on war and peace” from St. Augustine to the 1980’s unfortunately in dire need of updating to reflect just war debate of the past two decades. Nonetheless, here is a summary / review from the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars).

  • “War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning”, by Dr. Philip Blosser. (New Oxford Review April 2003), an analysis of rival Christian philosophical-theological approaches to war. Highly recommended, but as his son I’m of course rather biased. 😉
  • Absolute Pacifism?, Fr. William Most. An examination of the early Fathers of the Church on the question of pacifism and service in the military. (EWTN)
  • When War Must Be The Answer, by James V. Schall. Policy Review December 2004 / January 2005:

    calm and reasonable case can and should be made for the possession and effective use of force in today’s world. It is irresponsible not to plan for the necessity of force in the face of real turmoils and enemies actually present in the world. No talk of peace, justice, truth, or virtue is complete without a clear understanding that certain individuals, movements, and nations must be met with measured force, however much we might prefer to deal with them peacefully or pleasantly. Without force, many will not talk seriously at all, and some not even then. Human, moral, and economic problems are greater today for the lack of adequate military force or, more often, for the failure to use it when necessary.

  • Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition: An Assessment of the Catholic application of just war theory to the U.S. Iraqi Conflict – a survey of Catholic positions on the war in Iraq. May 18, 2006.
  • Just-War Theory, Catholic Morality, And The Response To International Terrorism”, by Mark S. Latkovic, provides an examination of the just-war theory in relation to the war on terrorism. The Catholic Faith (Ignatius Press, May/June 2002).
  • “Are we really serious when we ask God to deliver us from war? The Catechism and the challenge of Pope John Paul II”, by William L. Portier. Communio Spring 1996 – probably the best explication of John Paul II’s “new mind” on warfare and just war teaching. Portier concludes:

    On the one hand, because of his insistence on the legitimacy of self-defense, the pope cannot be called a pacifist. (It might be difficult to construe every “legitimate defense by military force” as the kind of “police” action some pacifists would support.) On the other hand, he has drawn the restrictions on the use of military force with sufficient rigor that proponents of just-war theory, if they wish to take him seriously, must reexamine their assumptions and reorient their discussion about war.

  • Whither “Just War”?, by Drew Christiansen, SJ. (America Vol. 188 No. 10. March 24, 2003), pondering the serious implications of the idea that the just war had “gone the way of the death penalty” and what it means for Catholics:

    Just war would be admitted in principle, but hardly ever in practice. Absent the institution of effective alternative conflict-resolution mechanisms and a standby U.N. force, official Catholic teaching would have become functionally pacifist, just as critics like George Weigel have argued for some time. If this were true, much would change for Catholics, from military service to conscientious objection and military chaplaincy. The salience of the church’s use of just-war criteria to prevent and limit war would also be greatly reduced, as would its ability to provide moral commentary on the formation of military policy and the actual conduct of war.

  • Essay on War, by Christopher Dawson. Inside the Vatican November 2004. “The 1937 selection comes out of the turbulent decade when Hitler was beating the drums of war and many in England, still in shock from the slaughter of 1914-1918, wanted peace at any price. Essentially, the essay argues against extreme pacifism and for a view of war that combines the prophetic Hebraic-Christian tradition with a close examination of history and of the impact of the new conditions in armaments and international relations.” It is interesting to note that even , Dawson offers criticism of the perspective that the savagery of “modern” weaponry has rendered the notion of just war absolete:

    Today, however, a new type of Catholic pacifist has emerged whose ideas approximate much more closely to absolute pacifism than to the traditional Catholic view.

    His attitude to the Just War is not unlike the old-fashioned Protestant’s attitude to miracles, that is, he does not deny its intrinsic possibility, but he thinks that it is something that does not occur nowadays. The Just War went with the picturesque trappings of war in the old style, like swords and cavalry and colored uniforms: it has been bombed out of existence by high explosives and poison gas.

    Now at first sight this view seems another example of the romantic fallacy which idealizes the past, as though wars were just when knights were bold, and ceased to be so when they ceased to be picturesque.

    It is true that the sufferings of modern war seem intolerable to us, but was there ever a time when they were tolerable to those who suffered from them? The German people, for example, suffered more both materially and morally during the Thirty Years War than they did even in 1918, and the sufferings of the soldiery itself, without anesthetics or antiseptics, without hospitals or ambulances, hardly bear thinking about.

    Moreover, the denial of the possibility of a just war under modern conditions would seem to reduce modern warfare to a sub-moral level, in which the justice or injustice of the particular issue goes by the board. It means not only that the aggressor is wrong to attack, but that his victim is also wrong in resisting the aggression. And it is surely difficult to believe that resistance to aggression becomes unjust merely because the aggressor is equipped with the latest mechanism of destruction.

    Dawson goes on to speculate that “The real case against modern war is that it is unnecessary and avoidable, that war between nations is as anomalous as private war had become by the end of the Middle Ages, and that the time has come when war can be banished from the world like slums or any other survival of barbarism.” Funny, that.

    As with Christ’s observation about the presence of the poor and downtrodden, I expect that so long as we live in a world fraught with sin and man’s capacity to commit evil and grave injustice, war will “always be with us.” So too, I imagine, the necessity of responding in grave situations with the use of force.


Memorial Day 2007

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

“Bivouac of the Dead”, Theodore O’Hara.

  • Their service came not as a burden but as a duty. The Daily Demarche on the origins of Memorial Day:

    In 1918 Moina Michael penned “We Shall Keep the Faith” in response to John McCrae’s “In Flanders Field” (both poems can be found at the end of this post) launching the idea of wearing a poppy on the 30th of May in remembrance of our fallen warriors. While Memorial Day has existed as a federal holiday since only 1966, the practice of honoring America’s war dead dates to at least the Civil War . . .

  • Private Robert J. Dixon: Ordinary Soldier, American Hero, by Jeff Emanuel (
  • “Fallen, But Never Forgotten” – ongoing series at Black Five.
  • In Remembrance – to remember and honor American service members lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, 3,839 service members are honored on this site.
  • Stars and Stripes lists some ways to support servicemembers, with links to many charities and services for our veterans. (See also Blackfive’s compilation of groups who work dilligently to support our military personnel in many different and positive ways).
  • From Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayerbook:

    The great French preacher Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.

    Initially compiled during World War II, a new edition of was republished in 2003 by Sophia Institute Press. (Sheen’s Wartime Prayerbook is also available online in its entirety).

  • Bagpipes Cryin’ – Based on a poem written by Commander Mark Waddell, as a tribute to the SEALS he lost in the Middle East. Set to music by Tim Rushlow:

    “I had three of the four guys on the ground that died that day. I was so heartbroken after I passed out all the flags at the memorial service. I was just thinking about the bagpiper, who is also a retired SEAL captain, standing there literally crying the song out of the bagpipes. We were all so sad. When I came home my wife said I should write down some words. Tim called me and asked how I was doing. I told him I wrote this poem and he said well let me have it. We went back and forth on the phone and decided to make it a tribute to everyone from World War II to the present.”

    Stumbled across an old green box
    in my granddaddy’s house
    Inside was a cross
    some old dog tags
    and a picture of when he was shipping out.
    So I showed it to him
    said “tell me about those days”
    When he looked inside
    he closed his eyes all he could say was:

    “I hear bagpipes cryin’ Amazing Grace
    Omaha Beach and her crashing waves.
    Old Glory draped like Heaven’s mercy
    over the fallen sons.
    I see all the heroes
    who were willing to fight in the name of freedom
    layin’ down their lives.
    And prayin’ God’s grace
    would keep us safe from harm
    until they brought us boys back home.”

    Those words to a boy that became a man
    now I’m ankle deep in this Persian sand.
    And every day I’m giving all I can
    because I’m damn proud to be American
    Yeah, I made some friends
    and I’ve lost some too
    When I think about what they gave for me and you

* * *
Today’s roundup goes out to all of our brave men and women serving our nation in all branches of our Armed Forces. And especially to my young brother Nathan (US Navy) and to my grandfather, Maas Vanderbilt (U.S. Army).

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, let thy protection be upon all those who are in the service of our country; guard them from all harm and danger of body and soul; sustain and comfort those as home, especially in their hours of loneliness, anxiety, and sorrow; prepare the dying for death and the living for your service; give success to our arms on land and sea and in the air; and grant unto us and all nations a speedy, just and lasting peace. Amen.

— Prayer in Time of War

Proud to be Catholic and American?

Some of our Catholic brethren have an . . . alternate take (to put it charitably) on Memorial Day and other American holidays. Here is Michael J. Iafrate (Catholic Anarchy / Vox Nova) on Memorial Day and the Religious Syncretism of the State:

Two years ago, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, a visiting priest was celebrating Mass at my parish in West Virginia. Near the end of Mass, before he processed out of the church he wanted, in light of the upcoming holiday, to honor the soldiers who “made the ultimate sacrifice for us.” All of this he said in front of a giant crucifix which, last time I checked, represents the “ultimate sacrifice” in which Christians believe and which, indeed, we had just celebrated in the Eucharistic action. As a fitting conclusion to the patriotic Mass, the congregation sang, not to Jesus, but to the country itself in the words of “America the Beautiful.”

We get into a really dangerous place when we start confusing our myths and our holidays. Memorial Day honors the memory of those who gave their lives serving the United States in its military, many of them making the “ultimate sacrifice” (in the state’s view) in service to the nation. That’s fine. The state needs holidays like this to support its grand narrative and mythology, just like any community of persons.[2] The Church, however, has its own “sort” of “Memorial Day.” In fact, our celebration of the Christian “Memorial Day” spans two days: All Saints Day and All Souls Day, November 1 and 2, respectively. These are the days that Christians celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us giving their lives specifically as followers of Christ, many of them making the ultimate sacrifice as martyrs on the way of the cross. . . .

Should not Christians at least consider resisting American holidays as a way of resisting the American mythology, the metanarrative that, as Catholic theologian William Cavanaugh says, serves as an “alternative soteriology” to the Church’s story of salvation history?[3] Should we not look for opportunites to subvert the holidays of the empire in which we find ourselves, reminding ourselves of and drawing attention to the ways in which these holidays, as part of American mythology, try to shape our loyalties and practices according to the ideals of the nation-state?

When I speak or write this way, I am often asked if I am advocating a Catholic type of separatism or sectarianism. The answer is no; I am not suggesting a withdrawal from the world. Such a suggestion would deny the mission of the Church for the world. On the other hand, I don’t think the careless syncretism of patriotic Christianity is the only alternative to sectarianism. I think we need a healthy, Catholic suspicion of alternative metanaratives to our own, an ability to clearly understand the differences between the two, and the courage to let that test our celebrations and our social ethics as Catholic Christians.


  • “I am Catholic, I love America, and So Should You” a lengthy, substantial response from Michael R. Denton (For the Greater Glory) May 26, 2007. [Follow Up: Reaction to the Memorial Day & Catholicism argument May 28, 2007.].
  • Shades of (red, white, and) blue), by Patrick O’Hannigan (The Paragraph Farmer). May 27, 2007.
  • Catholic Hatriotism, by Victor Morton (Coalition For Fog).
  • From Radical Catholic Mom @ Vox Nova: Honoring the Dead May 28, 2007:

    When my two Marine brothers were serving at the same time, one in Iraq the other in Afghanistan, I asked a local deacon at my parish to pray for them. Do you know what he said to me? He said, “What is wrong with your family to produce two killers?” I was absolutely stunned and speechless. My brothers joined the Marines directly because of 9/11. My family has produced one police officer, two teachers, and two soldiers: all service professions.

    I understand how Catholics can despise war. We are called to choose peace and live peace. But what do we do when there is war? How do we serve the families of those affected by it? My mother was in Hell when her only sons were in harm’s way. She received many prayers and phone calls from lay Catholics, but none from her priests and deacons.

    One of these soldiers who did not come home is being honored by an Afghan village where he served before he was killed by a sniper’s bullet. He tried and succeeded to save the life of a little Afghan girl. The Taliban did not help her. But a United States Petty Officer did. If an Afghan village can honor him, can we not as well? His name is US Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John Fralish. He served in my brother’s unit the 1/3 Alpha Company Marine unit as a medic. He is remembered by the 1/3 family and hopefully by other Americans.

    The callous reaction of the Catholic Deacon in her account (which reveals a blatant disregard for the Church’s understanding of legitimate use of force and the profession of a soldier) and the worldview of Michael J. Iafrate are not entirely unrelated.

Incentives to Further Thought

  • On Being Catholic American, by Joseph A. Varacalli. Ignatius Insight May 2005:

    . . . a brief reflection, from what I take to be an authentic Catholic sensibility, on how Catholics ought to analyze their relationship to American society and culture. Put another way, the following question might be posed: “What does American patriotism mean to the serious and devout Catholic?” Or, perhaps and more precisely, the question is: “How can American patriotism be apprehended in a manner consistent with the tenets of the Catholic faith?”

  • Civil Allegiance – a primer from the Catholic Enyclopedia (1917). Worth reading.
  • Can Catholics be Real Americans?, by Mark Brumley. Ignatius Insight November 2004.

  • Allegiance to God AND Country, by Dr. James Toner. “. . . too many Catholics today seem to accept the idea, not that our allegiance to the state is supreme, but that we ought to have no allegiance to the state (cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14).”

Feast of Pentecost – 2007

. . . the Church had its solemn beginning with the descent of the Holy Spirit. In this extraordinary event we find the essential and qualifying marks of the Church: the Church is one, like the community of Pentecost, which was united in prayer and “of one mind”: “it had but one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32).

The Church is holy, not because of its own merits, but because, animated by the Holy Spirit, it keeps its gazed fixed upon Christ to become conformed to him and his love. The Church is catholic because the Gospel is destined for all people and for this reason, already at the beginning, the Holy Spirit gives the Church the ability to speak in different tongues. The Church is apostolic because, built upon the foundation of the apostles, it faithfully conserves their teaching through the uninterrupted chain of apostolic succession.

The Church, moreover, is missionary by its nature, and from the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit does not cease to move it along the roads of the world to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. This reality, which we can verify in every epoch, is already anticipated in the Book of Acts, in which the passage of the Gospel from the Jews to the pagans, from Jerusalem to Rome, is described.

Rome represents the pagan world and therefore all peoples who are outside the ancient people of God. In fact, the Acts conclude with the arrival of the Gospel in Rome. We can say, then, that Rome is the concrete name of the catholicity and missionary spirit of the Church; it expresses fidelity to the origins, to the Church of all times, to a Church that speaks in all languages and goes out to meet every culture.

Dear brothers and sisters, the first Pentecost happened when Mary Most Holy was present among the disciples in the cenacle in Jerusalem and prayed. Today also we entrust ourselves to her maternal intercession so that the Holy Spirit descend abundantly upon the Church of our time and fill the hearts of all the faithful and enkindle in them — in us — the fire of his love.

Pope Benedict XVI on the Solemnity of Pentecost. May 27, 2007.

Pope Benedict in Brazil – Coverage by John Allen Jr. & ‘American Papist’

Roundup and commentary of the Pope’s visit to Brazil is forthcoming over at the Benedict Blog, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the excellent work already accomplished by Thomas N. Peters aka. American Papist for providing daily coverage of his own, well worth a visit:

Likewise to National Catholic Reporter‘s John Allen Jr., with daily coverage and insightful commentary:

  • Day Five: Benedict’s critique of capitalism no surprise May 13, 2007:

    Benedict XVI’s stinging criticism of both Marxism and capitalism this afternoon may have caught some off-guard used to thinking of him as a consumate conservative, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Joseph Ratzinger’s history. . . .

  • Day Five: Pope raps Capitalism, Marxism as ‘blind alleys” in a world without God May 13, 2007.
  • Day Five: Christ, not ideology, creates a ‘continent of hope,’ pope says May 13, 2007:

    Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), many Catholic theologians, priests, bishops and lay activists in Latin America have sought to mobilize the church to respond to the continent’s pressing social and political crises, above all the disparities between rich and poor – a gap which, according to United Nations statistics, is more dramatic in Latin America than anywhere else in the world.

    The pope acknowledged that focusing on the spiritual dimension of the church’s life “must not serve as an excuse for avoiding the historical reality in which the church lives as she shares the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those who are poor and afflicted.”

    Yet Benedict has insisted that this social solidarity must not dislodge proclamation of Christ, participation in the sacraments, and the promotion of holiness as the heart of Catholic identity. It is not the role of the church to provide specific political solutions to Latin America’s problems, the pope has said, but rather to provide the evangelical “motor fuel” for a commitment to finding those solutions.

  • Day Four: Facing dramatic losses, Benedict says: ‘It’s worth it to stay Catholic!’ May 12, 2007.
  • Day Four: Benedict issues dramatic warning to drug dealers, but his real message is Christ May 12, 2007:

    Citing Jesus’ promise in the Gospel of John that whoever follows him “will have the light of life,” Benedict said that his mission is to “renew in people’s hearts this light that never goes out, so that it will shine in the most intimate corners of the souls of all those who seek true goodness and peace, which the world cannot give.”

    “God does not compel, does not oppress individual liberty,” the pope said. “He only asks the openness of that sacred place of our conscience, though which all the noblest aspirations pass, but also the disordered feelings and passions that obscure the message of the Most High.”

    Benedict told the Poor Clares that, “It is the risen Christ who heals the wounds and saves the sons and daughters of God, saves humanity from death, from sin and from slavery to passions.”

    The bottom line for Benedict XVI in Brazil thus seems to be this: If you want to give life to the suffering peoples of Latin America, give them Christ. Downplaying the specifically “religious” dimension of the church’s message not only betrays its mission, he believes, but in the end it fails to produce the desired social results.

  • Day Three: Pope calls Brazil’s bishops to order May 11, 2007:

    While Benedict XVI is too genteel a figure to engage in what political writers call “taking someone to the woodshed,” his speech this afternoon to some 430 Brazilian bishops came about as close as he’s likely to get.

    Wrapped in gratitude for the bishops’ service, and for the warm welcome he’s received in Brazil, Benedict’s message was nonetheless an unambiguous call to order. . . .

    “Wherever God and his will are unknown, wherever faith in Jesus Christ and in his sacramental presence is lacking, the essential element for the solution of pressing social and political problems is also missing,” he said.

    For that reason, the pope said, it’s important to teach the faith “without interpretations motivated by a rationalistic ideology.” The bishops, he said, must take care that this doesn’t happen.

    In terms of pastoral programs, Benedict analyzed the problem of Catholic defections to Pentecostal churches, which he called a source of “just concern,” as the result of a lack of evangelization and catechesis which places “Christ and his church at the center of every explanation.” He therefore urged an urgent program of missionary outreach, stressing “personal and communal adhesion to Christ.”

  • Day Three: Benedict holds up a model of authentic liberation theology May 11, 2007:

    Though Benedict did not put it this way, Frei Galvão is an icon of what the pope considers an authentic form of liberation theology: one that puts God and the life of the spirit first, direct charitable care of others second, and only then draws consequences for a just social order.

  • Day Two: Benedict strikes softer tone May 10, 2007:

    If Benedict XVI’s tough comments about excommunication for pro-choice Catholic politicians marked day one of his May 9-13 trip to Brazil, day two had a softer tone, focusing on pastoral moments and issues where church and state in Brazil are in broad agreement.

    In their meeting in a government palace in São Paulo, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Pope Benedict steered clear of potential flash-points such as abortion and contraception, focusing instead on efforts to support families, education, and environmental concerns. . . .

    After lunch with the officers of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, Benedict XVI also held a brief, but highly symbolic, meeting with the emeritus Archbishop of São Paulo, Cardinal Paulo Arns. During the battles over liberation theology in the 1970s and 1980s, Arns and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger often locked horns. When four new dioceses were split off from São Paulo in 1988, in a fashion that Arns himself had opposed, it was widely taken as a sign of Vatican disapproval.

    In that light, Benedict’s choice to put an encounter with Arns on his schedule was seen as a gesture of reconciliation.

  • Day Two: Hopelessness, not Pentecostalism, as Brazil’s mega-trend in religion May 10, 2007: Although much conversation surrounding Benedict XVI’s trip to Brazil has focused on defections from the Catholic church to Pentecostalism, Fr. Jose Oscar Beozzo says the more important, albeit less discussed, phenomenon is the striking rise in the percentage of Brazilians with no religious faith at all.
  • Day One: Confusion on communion for pro-choice politicians nothing new May 9, 2007. “Confusion created today on the papal plane – after Pope Benedict XVI appeared to say that politicians who vote in favor of abortion rights should be considered excommunicated, only to have Vatican officials back away from that interpretation – is nothing new. Attempts to discern the mind of Joseph Ratzinger on this question have long been complicated.”
  • Day One: The Love/Hate Relationship between Benedict and Liberation Theology May 9, 2007:

    In terms of church politics, Ratzinger’s involvement with debates over liberation theology began even before he arrived in the Vatican. While still the Archbishop of Munich-Freising, Pope John Paul I dispatched him as a papal legate to a Marian congress in Ecuador in September 1978, where Ratzinger cautioned against Marxist ideologies and the theology of liberation. Upon arriving at the Vatican, his struggles with the liberationists quickly became the stuff of ecclesiastical legend.

    Ratzinger always insisted that the problem was not with the motive of liberation theologians, but with efforts to reshape or even bowdlerize the church’s traditional doctrine to make it more “relevant” for desired social outcomes. When one does that, Ratzinger argued, not only is the faith distorted, but the desired social outcomes are never reached. . . .

  • Day One: Transcript of News Conference aboard the Papal Plane May 9, 2007.
  • Day One: Benedict’s ‘now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t’ hard line on pro-choice politicians May 9, 2007:

    During a news conference aboard the papal plane from Rome to São Paulo today, Benedict XVI appeared to significantly tighten the screws on pro-choice Catholic politicians, saying, in effect, that legislators who support pro-abortion measures should be considered excommunicated under church law.

    It was the first time a pope directly asserted that by virtue of voting in favor of a measure expanding abortion rights, a politician excommunicates him or herself.

    Vatican efforts to soften this hard line, however, were quick in coming.

Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ

On eve of pope’s Brazil trip, Sobrino defends liberation theology”, by John Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter May 8, 2007:

On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s departure for Brazil, his first trip to Latin America, one of the region’s best-known Catholic theologians – whose work recently drew a negative review from the Vatican – has spoken out forcefully in defense of liberation theology and its “option for the poor.”

Jesuit Fr. Jon Sobrino’s essay, his first public statement since a critical March 14 notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, comes in a May 1 collection of essays published by the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. . . .

In his 4,000-word essay, Sobrino does not comment in detail on the Vatican notification, but he offers a ringing defense of liberation theology. [MORE]



  • Doctrinal congregation head finds his work mostly behind the scenes, by John Thavis. Catholic News. March 16, 2007:

    Although some critics described the Vatican’s action against Father Sobrino as authoritarian, for Cardinal Levada it was an example of how carefully and cooperatively the doctrinal congregation operates.

    “I think we work in a more collegial fashion than in most instances in the church,” Cardinal Levada told Catholic News Service in a wide-ranging interview in mid-March.

    “We take into account all the relevant data before articulating our position,” he said. That means thorough reflection and discussion by groups of theological peers before decisions, reprimands or decrees are handed down, he said.. . .

    The study of Father Sobrino’s works began well before Cardinal Levada arrived at his position, at a time when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — was at the helm of the doctrinal congregation. . . .

    Cardinal Levada said Father Sobrino was given ample opportunity to consider and respond to the critical review.

    “The congregation works very slowly in reviewing a theologian’s work, perhaps too slowly in many respects. It attempts to guarantee fairness for the theologian and put aside any idea that somebody is being railroaded,” the cardinal said.

    Theologians under review can have their own theological or canonical adviser. Any critique is based not on anonymous accusations but on the theologian’s published works or public statements.

    “Often the question is whether a theologian really believes something that is contrary to the faith, or whether he has expressed his thinking badly or partially,” Cardinal Levada said.

    Ultimately these questions are examined by a group of theological peers that routinely advise the congregation, then by the cardinal and bishop members of the congregation, and finally by the pope for his final judgment, the cardinal said.

    “We don’t publicize this process, because in some instances, I say gratefully, we have not had to come to a public notification. If a theologian acknowledges an error or a too-partial presentation and agrees to make an adequate correction in a subsequent book or article, then we’ll consider the matter closed,” he said.

    So far, the cardinal said, that has not been the case with Father Sobrino, and so a public warning was necessary. Although Father Sobrino is 69 and currently not teaching, he remains an influential voice in Catholic theology, Cardinal Levada said.

  • Sobrino’s notification: a sign of things to come, by John Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter March 16, 2007.
  • Vatican Aide Reflects on Sobrino’s Errors, Highlights Need for Sound Christology March 16, 2007.
  • Vatican censures Sobrino, who calls procedures ‘not honest’ March 14, 2007.
  • The Sentence Against Theologian Jon Sobrino Is Aimed at an Entire Continent May 14, 2007:

    ROMA, March 20, 2007 – Last Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a diminutive friar from Peru in the black and white habit of the Dominicans came before Benedict XVI, who was officiating over the rite in the Roman basilica of Santa Sabina. The pope applied the ashes to his head.

    The friar was Gustavo Gutiérrez, author of the 1971 book “A Theology of Liberation,” which gave rise to the theological current of the same name.

    In 1984, and again in 1986, this theology was severely criticized by two documents from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, signed by then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. But it still influences large sectors of the Latin American Church, in their mentality and language.

    Not all of its major exponents have taken the same path. Gutiérrez has corrected some of its initial positions, has entered the Dominican order, and at the beginning of this Lent he was called to give a theology course at an illustrious pontifical university in Rome, the Angelicum, where Karol Wojtyla studied.

    But another famous liberation theologian, the Jesuit Jon Sobrino, a Basque émigré to El Salvador, where he co-founded the University of Central America, UCA, has held firm on his positions even after the congregation for the doctrine of the faith placed two of his books under examination. . . .

Update to RFC Compilation: ‘Ratzinger-Kasper Debate’

One of the most asked-about sections of the RatzingerFanClub’s archives is our section on the ‘Ratzinger Kasper Debate’, which occurred from 1999-2001 and concerns itself with the local or diocesian church or the universal Church, and what takes historical and ontological precedence with implications on the execution of episcopal authority. (For a quick summary of the debate see Authority Reconsidered: Who’s in charge here?” by Russell Shaw. Our Sunday Visitor 8/12/01).

The debate began in 1999 with the publication of an article by Cardinal Kasper titled “On the Office of Bishop”, to which then-Cardinal Ratzinger responded in 2000, The only mention made of this article is in Kasper’s On the Church (America
Vol. 184 No. 14 April 23, 2001. While most of the substantial texts of this debate are available online and in English, it was a source of consternation that we had not been able to find a proper citation or source for the initial essay by Kasper (disappointing many an enquirer and seminary student writing on this subject).

So I’m pleased to report the mystery is solved. In 1999, Kasper published a Festschrift honoring Bishop Josef Homeyer, a chapter on the theology and praxis of the bishop with special reference to the relation of the local bishop to the universal Church.

The article alas, remains unavailable online. But for an analysis of its key points, see Walter Kasper on the theology and the praxis of the bishop’s office, by Kilian McDonnell. Theological Studies Vol. 63, 2002.

The full citation for Kasper’s article is “Zur Theologie und Praxis des bischöflichen Amtes,” in Auf neue Art Kirche Sein: Wirklichkeiten-Herausfoderungen-Wandlungen, ed. Werner Schreer and Georg Steins (Munich: Bernward bei Don Bosco, 1999) 32-48, at 43.].
* * *
Anyway — a brief citation, but an accomplishment which I’m sure will be beneficial to many an inquirer on this subject.