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Saturday, 23 June 2018 16:17

The Catholic Church Moves Towards Nonviolence?

Written by Charlie Reilly
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Just Peace Just War in Dialogue

Charlie Reilly – San Diego Chapter

A cluster of San Diego Affiliates joined several hundred people at the USD Peace and Justice Auditorium October 6 & 7 to reflect on this topic.

Maria Stephan of the Institute for Peace gave a splendid opening talk on “The Nonviolent Option: The Power of Active Nonviolence.” She reminded us of the many under-reported examples of effective social change through nonviolent movements around the world in recent years. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana gave the closing talk, “Christian Nonviolence and Just Peace.” He heads the Vatican’s Human Development office, which includes the Justice and Peace outreach initiative encouraged by Pope Francis. This event follows up on a Vatican session held a year ago, also organized by Maryknoll and Pax Christi co-president Marie Dennis. Sandwiched between the two public talks was an all-day seminar for some 15 Catholic theologians and peace activists with an equal number of military officers, most of them faculty members (or retired from) teaching ethics at Army, Navy, and Air Force academies. Fr. Bill Headley and I participated in the whole event.

The dialogue was structured around a half day of presentations by the “peaceniks,” followed by small group dialogues including Marie, Ken Butigan of Pace e Bene, Maryann Cusimano Love of Catholic University, Terrence Rynne from Marquette, and Father John Dear (who recalled fondly his last visit to USD with the Maryknoll Affiliates). Their proposal supported the emergent concept of “just peace” as a complement, hopefully more effective in practice, than has been St. Augustine’s so often ignored “just war theory.” The group discussed last year’s Vatican dialogue, Pope Francis’ great interest in “just peace” and strong support for more leadership from the Vatican in the world movement for nonviolence.

In the afternoon, a panel of military officers was invited to present their vision of peace and security and to discuss how they teach and view prevention of war, conduct during, and role after conflicts. Many of them have participated in “mil/civ” dialogues in the United States and were “at ease” in discussion, and at times, in disagreement. I was surprised to learn that most of them came from Catholic backgrounds, so the concepts and language in the dialogue was more fluid than I had expected. They made some valuable points regarding the continuing value of “just war” for having placed some controls on the conduct of warfare that are now enshrined in international law. General Charles Dunlap, USAF (Ret.) expressed this concern, noting that there were some adversaries who would love to see those principles trashed. The “peace group” recognized that danger but felt the “just peace,” nonviolent approach would be a complement, not replace the whole just war apparatus but spur the ethics of peace building.

I appreciated the ongoing “mil/civ” discussions on the 3 D’s—Defense, Development, and Diplomacy—though not the disproportional investment going to the first. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have heightened tensions between the military and civilian humanitarian and development actors, and this was one of many military/civilian dialogues on the subject.

My takeaway and comment summing up our small group discussions was:

We ask far too much from the military if laying on them the 3 D’s, while we ask far too little of our religious leaders in promoting the ‘just peace’ of the nonviolent Jesus.

At the end of the day, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego welcomed Cardinal Turkson and framed well the issues of just war and just peace for the audience. The Cardinal’s keynote talk, “Christian Nonviolence and Just Peace,” was excellent. He had sat in on the dialogues, listened well, and focused on Pope Francis’s “Message for the Fiftieth World Day of Peace (January 1, 2017).” He recalled Francis’s words to UN and US Congressional leaders, and his writings on the environment and solidarity. He concluded by counseling that each of us has our own violence deep inside. Before taking on and setting straight the violent world, he counseled, we should begin and continue by shaping up ourselves. He didn’t sing it, but I could almost hear the hymn, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me,” floating in the auditorium.


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