William McGurn, writing in the Wall Street Journal, replies to reaction to his previous column about the Pope’s position on the war. To his credit, he starts with a correction. But he goes on to say that he sees a tendency in the Pope’s philosophy, and of those around him, to see a change in how the Pope treats long held Catholic beliefs.
For example, McGurn makes a link between the change in the stance on the death penalty—that while the Church’s teaching is the state’s use of force is justifiable, the state now has alternatives that make it unnecessary—with just war. While I agree with the Pope on the death penalty, I don’t agree that just war is also no longer possible. Yes, we have the means to lock up a criminal for his entire life, but I can envision circumstances when war is necessary. If a dictator herds his people into death camps, what are we to do? Justice seems to demand the defense of the innocent.
McGurn ends with a cogent hypothetical:
In short, what we have lost here is a tremendous teaching opportunity. And if the Vatican’s problem is, as Archbishop Martino suggests and the pope’s own words at times imply, not simply Iraq but a larger discomfort with just war in a modern world, it raises even more questions. Namely, how President Bush can be held in breach of moral criteria that (a) are in the process of being radically revised and (b) really can’t be met anyhow.
In another remark on Vatican Radio made on the eve of war, Archbishop Martino characterized the American response to Iraq as replying with “bombs to a people that has been asking for bread for the last 12 years.” The Vatican role, by contrast, would be to play the “the Good Samaritan who kneels to tend the wounds of an injured, weak nation.”
Which begs a question: If the biblical Good Samaritan had arrived on the scene a little earlier and stumbled on the robbers instead of their victim, what would have been his obligation?