A push at the Vatican to make ‘Love’ not ‘Just War’

Just a week ago, the Vatican preached to the world about The Joy of Love and then followed up that book-length exhortation from Pope Francis with a global gathering intent on dismantling the traditional “Just War” rationale that has been used all too often as a moral mandate for conflict.

While this summit on “Just War” did not have the official weight of other major gatherings welcomed by Francis in recent years—it nevertheless appeared to have his full blessing. Read Francis’s plea to the participants, published just before they gathered in Rome, to see his deep concern that violence around the world has become a “unique and terrible world war in installments that, directly or indirectly, a large part of humankind is presently undergoing.”


Newspapers in Ireland and other historically Catholic countries around the world carried the news. However, Irish reporting on the Church’s views about war was especially pointed because this is the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising. This uprising took place during World War I, while England’s armed forces were heavily engaged in Europe, and was the most significant Irish campaign for independence since the late 1700s. In Ireland, the implication of this move away from “Just War” by Catholic leaders is that the Easter Rising was not morally justified.

One such analyses was published by David Quinn in an Opinion section of the Irish Independent. His lengthy article says in part:

But was the Rising justified? As educated Catholics, they ought to have been familiar with ‘Just War’ theory. Was the Rising a just war? One person who says “definitely not” is the Jesuit philosopher Seamus Murphy. Writing in ‘The Irish Catholic’ a few weeks ago, he set out the major criteria by which a war may be considered just or unjust. He lists these as: don’t target non-combatants; don’t start a war if there is no hope of success; only a “competent authority” such as a government or popular representatives possess the right to start a war or insurrection; the war requires a just cause such as defense against invasion; and there is no realistic alternative to war.

Writing in French from Belgium, correspondent Manu Van Leer reported on the Vatican conference, including comments from Pax Christi International leader Marie Dennis. Translated into English, an excerpt of this story says:

The starting point of this three-day conference in Rome was the assumption that the traditional teaching of “Just War” in the Catholic world may prevent creative, nonviolent alternatives to develop. “When there is a conflict, don’t we tend to limit ourselves too quickly to the only conclusion: a few more bombs may stop the violence?” asked Marie Dennis. “Shouldn’t we give more support to a theology of nonviolence and ‘Just Peace’ in juxtaposition to this theory of ‘Just War’.”

The conference also was covered in Arabic-language news media. Among them, the French-based website Aleteia, which covers news and viewpoints about Christianity, published an Arabic summary of what was happening in Rome.

The Tablet, the influential Catholic weekly founded in 1840, added key context to the story—pointing out that this does not represent a change in official Vatican doctrine. Rather, this is an effort that seems to have major backing by Vatican leaders to move toward a focus on “just peace” rather than using theology to justify wars. The weekly magazine’s Christopher Lamb captures that context in the headline: Pax Christi puts pressure on the Vatican to end its support of ‘just wars.‘ Francis himself may have signaled that he supports this move, but that’s not the same as formally changing worldwide Catholic teaching.

In the U.S., The National Catholic Reporter has been the best source of coverage, both before the conference began and as it concluded. One story on April 12 summarized Pope Francis’s appeal to the gathering. On April 14, NCR correspondent Joshua McElwee wrote in part:

The participants in this first-of-its-kind Vatican conference have bluntly rejected the Catholic church’s long-held teachings on just war theory, saying they have too often been used to justify violent conflicts and the global church must reconsider Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. Members of a three-day event co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi have also strongly called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other “major teaching document,” reorienting the church’s teachings on violence. “There is no ‘just war,'” the some 80 participants of the conference state in an appeal they released Thursday morning.


Last week, ReadTheSpirit.com magazine published a news analysis by global peacemaker Daniel Buttry about the significance of the Vatican gathering.

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