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Bishop speaks on just war

Maddie Hanna | Friday, February 24, 2006

Catholics who wish to be true disciples of Christ can never accept war as a solution to the world’s problems – no matter the circumstances, Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton told members of the Notre Dame and South Bend communities Thursday night.

“That’s the challenge I leave you with tonight – say ‘no’ to war, ‘yes’ to peace, to justice, to love,” Gumbleton told the approximately 60 audience members in DeBartolo 141.

Gumbleton’s challenge was based on a statement made by the late Pope John Paul II, whose teachings he drew from heavily throughout the address.

While Gumbleton has been the target of national attention after recently coming forward as a childhood victim of sexual abuse by a priest, he spoke Thursday on a much different topic – “Religion and War.”

He broke down the Church’s teachings on war into the theology of just war and the theology of nonviolence.

Both theologies are based on the premise that Jesus rejected violence for any reason, Gumbleton said. But the distinction arises when those in favor of nonviolence say this position is always the case, while those who support just war argue exceptions exist.

He explained the two major criteria just war proponents evaluate when debating the merits of war, the principles of discretion and proportionality.

“You must be able to wage that war in such a way that you can make distinctions between combatants and non-combatants,” Gumbleton said. “[And you must have] moral certitude that the good you hope to achieve surpasses the evil you know will happen.”

But Gumbleton said war could never be justified.

“Jesus taught us how to die – not how to kill,” he said. “That was the understanding of the Christian community for over 300 years.”

Delving into the history of the Church’s attitude toward war, Gumbleton said the idea of just war is rooted in the second half of the 4th century. The theory later developed into the predominant theology of the Church for the next 1500 to 1600 years.

But Gumbleton said that theology began to shift as a new form of warfare rocked the world – total war, beginning with World War II.

“It’s a whole people, waging war against another people,” he said.

World War II also saw the first devastation wracked by nuclear weapons, Gumbleton said. He focused on the estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians killed instantly by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

“This bomb is a challenge to God,” Gumbleton said. “We say to God, we have the power to destroy everything you made … [it is] a blasphemy that’s immeasurable.”

The next landmark in the Church-war relationship, Gumbleton said, was the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The “very tense time” influenced then-Pope John XXIII to produce an encyclical entitled “Pacem in Terris,” or Peace on Earth.

“In this atomic era, it is irrational any longer to think of war as an apt means to vindicate violated rights,” Gumbleton said, quoting John XXIII.

This irrationality, he said, means there must be “a whole new attitude toward war.”

The Church’s official stance was further developed in John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical “Centesimus Annus,” where the Pope said he repeated the cry, “No – never again war,” after watching the Persian Gulf War unfold.

“To me, this [response] sums it up,” Gumbleton said.

In the encyclical, Gumbleton said John Paul II also gave two “very compelling reasons” against war – the first being war “destroys the lives of innocent people.”

“Since World War II, every war has brought about the death of ever larger [numbers of non-combatants],” said Gumbleton, who attributed this to the spread of total war.

Civilian deaths have been multiplied exponentially by the use of nuclear weapons, Gumbleton said, discussing uranium’s association with cancer and “horrible birth defects.”

“I visited hospitals in Basra and I saw with my own eyes some of these things I’ve described,” he said, his voice close to a murmur. “The suffering and tragedy is incomprehensible … The proportionality [of outweighing the bad with good] is totally gone.”

John Paul II’s second argument against war outlined in his encyclical is war “throws into upheaval the lives of those who do the killing,” Gumbleton said.

He quoted Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who served in Vietnam and was taken as a prisoner of war: “I hated my enemy even before they held me captive, because hate sustained me in my devotion to their complete destruction.”

“Listen to what he’s saying,” Gumbleton said. “‘I hated them’ -not after they shot him down, not after the six and a half years [McCain spent] in prison.

“What does that do to us? We’re made in the image of God … We’re destroying the image of God, we’re destroying our humanness.”

And war makes it more difficult to achieve any resolution or stability – especially regarding the problems that drove the sides to fight in the first place, said Gumbleton, again quoting John Paul II.

“[War] always leaves behind a trail of hatred and resentment,” he said. “That makes it very hard to resolve the problems that led to war.

“How do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrible violence?”

Gumbleton said this restoration must be accomplished with love and justice, with special concern for a just economic system.

“We have to bring about dramatic change in the world in which we live, where some people have so much and so many people have so little,” he said. “[We must] transform our world with the fascinating power of love.”

But not everyone in the audience was sold on the message. Freshman Jon Heintz asked Gumbleton several questions about what the United States could have done differently in handling Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Gumbleton said it all came down to a lack of adequately directed efforts by the United States.

“Peace requires genuine, respectful negotiation, and it can work,” he said. “The largest nation in the world [acting] with the largest army in the world – that’s not negotiation. That’s intimidation.”

Gumbleton was the second speaker in this spring’s Catholic Think Tank lecture series, a student government-coordinated effort to bring prominent Catholics to campus. William Pryor, Jr., U.S. Circuit Judge for the 11th Court of Appeals, spoke Jan. 24 in the first installment of the series.