John Lilburne's journal about Bishop Morris on "just war" doctrine.


About John Lilburne







1000 K Sun 1 Oct 2001

I have been thining about a passage from The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. A proposal of peace and friendship is put to King Theoden:

"We will have peace," said Theoden at last thickly and with an effort. Several of the Riders cried out gladly. Theoden held up his hand. "Yes, we will have peace," he said, now in a clear voice, "we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished--and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. ... (Grafton Books, 1991, page 603).

There is a story on page 8 of The Australian today:


Hundreds rally against retaliation

Hundreds of protestors turned out in Brisbane and Melbourne as part of an international peace rally to condemn the terrorist attacks on the US and warn against a military response. ...

Another story is on page 9:

Police step in on anti-war rallies

Thousands of anti-war demonstrators, including many anti-globalisation militants, have take to the streets of Washington and San Francisco to protest against possible US military action in response to the September 11 kamikaze attacks.

I have also been reading a statement from Bishop Morris, Acting Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council. He has some worthwhile things to say. But I am confused by one of his points for a just war:

6. The action must not harm innocents

These criteria are collectively known as the just war tradition.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war." (CCC 2307). It seems unreasonable to me that there can be a war that "must not harm innocents". I think its wrong to say that it is part of the just war tradition.

The Catechism expresses the elements of "just war" differently to Bishop Morris, in CCC 2309:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

- there must be serious prospect of success;

- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

Bishop Morris writes "Even then, only after all other non-violent means of self-defence have been exhausted may the use of force be contemplated as a last resort." But the Catechism does not use the word "exhausted" but "impractical or ineffective".

Bishop Morris asks "Can we really say that there is a clear, identifiable, grave and immediate danger of serious harm to the common good at the moment?" I don't think many would doubt that the harm of 11 September is clear, grave and serious. The fact that there are difficulties identifying the terrorists only makes the situation more dangerous.

Bishop Morris writes "For the use of force to be appropriate, we would need to have compelling proof ...". It depends who is meant by "we". Perhaps by "we" he means those who decide on war, "those who have responsibility for the common good". But I can see good reasons for not making "compelling proof" public.

Bishop Morris writes "Australia should not be supporting any use of force that is not authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Anything else would be international vigilante action." But the Catechism has, in CCC 2308:

"as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed." (Gaudium et Spes, 79.4)

I agree with Bishop Browning that this should not be a desire for revenge. As the Catechism says:

By recalling the commandment, "You shall not kill," our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral.

Anger is a desire for revenge. "To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit," but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution "to correct vices and maintain justice." (St Thomas Aquinas). If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbour, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. (CCC 2302)

If Australian troops go into a horrible war in Afghanistan, it should be about justice and fixing a war-torn country. Not about revenge.

In The Lord of the Rings a wiser head prevails over King Theoden. Gandalf says:

"But you need not fear for your skin. I do not wish to kill you, or hurt you, as you would know, if you really understood me. And I have the power to protect you. I am giving you a last chance. You can leave Orthanc, free--if you choose." (Grafton Books, 1991, page 606).

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 1 October 2001.



Links to other sites:

Cathtelecom report on statement by Bishop Morris

Statement by Bishop Morris - Current Crisis calls for Principled Response