Saturday, April 23, 2016

Peaceful but not passive: Romero and ‘Just War’

Credits: Mike Goldwater, Robert Lentz

#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy
When Pope Francis considers calls to do away with “Just War” Doctrine—the set of conditions under which war is justified in the Christian tradition—he may want to consider Blessed Oscar Romero’s approach.  Facing different types of violence in 1970s El Salvador, Romero strikes a balance between the duty to oppose abuses and the law of nonviolence.  A Christian should be “peaceful,” he says; but he need not be “passive.” In Romero’s words (adopted from the Latin American Bishops’ Conference), “He can fight, but he prefers peace to war.” [See also: The Next Synod.]

Romero’s formulation accepts the tradition from St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas in its entirety, but he uses it as a speed bump to slow down the race toward war, and he highlights its requirements that call for cultivating a spirit of nonviolence.

He can fight

In the first instance, Romero acknowledges the concern raised by Pope Francis in August 2014, when he said that “where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.”  Along those lines, Romero admits that “Every individual has the potential for a healthy degree of aggression.”  He concedes that such propensity “is an endowment by nature to enable persons to overcome the obstacles in their lives. Courage, boldness, and fearlessness in taking risks,” says Romero, “are notable virtues and values among our people.”  (Third Pastoral Letter.) In this regard, Romero seems to agree with the Spanish-Salvadoran Liberation Theologian Ignacio Ellacuria, SJ, who said that aggression “is certainly a positive and necessary value,” even though it could be bent toward diabolical purposes.
But he prefers peace

Despite that theoretical allowance, “Archbishop Romero wanted to squeeze out the last drop of hope for a non-violent solution to the social, economic, and political problems of El Salvador,” writes Fr. Thomas Greenan, who has studied Romero’s preaching.  He maintained that while there was the slightest possibility of a dialogue, war should not be an option.”  (Greenan, Archbishop Romero’s Homilies: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis, Romero Trust, London, 124, online HERE). 
Thus, Romero parts ways with certain strands of Liberation Theology and agrees with Card. Ratzinger, who warned in his 1986 Instruction that the “Systematic recourse to violence put forward as the necessary path to liberation has to be condemned as a destructive illusion and one that opens the way to new forms of servitude.”  (Romero himself would quote Paul VI, who had similarly warned that “sudden and violent changes in structures would be fallacious, ineffectual in themselves and certainly not in conformity with the dignity of the people.”)
Thus, when the Italian Red Brigades kidnapped and murdered former Prime Minister Aldo Moro, Romero warned his countrymen that “violence can never be justified and that it is always useless and causes greater evil” (compare Ratzinger, above).  He explained that “While Catholic morality allows for a just war in certain situations, yet this is permissible only after all reasonable and peaceful means have been exhausted.”  (May 21, 1978 Homily.)  He was even more explicit when he said, “This is not the time for guerrillas. At the present time, guerrilla activity and everything that encourages violence and underground activities is inappropriate when there is an appeal for open dialogue.” (Nov. 11, 1979 Hom.)

Romero’s restatement of the Just War Doctrine is set forth in his last two pastoral letters.  In his Third Pastoral Letter, Romero posits the doctrine as proof that “The Church prefers the constructive dynamism of nonviolence.”  He holds up the elements of the doctrine as the yardstick by which to declare the different types of violence of his day immoral and deplorable.  Let us recall in this connection his immortal words: “We have never preached violence—except, the violence of love” (Nov. 27, 1977 Hom.).
In his Fourth Pastoral Letter, Romero admits that modern day instances when war would be justified are few and far between.  History has taught us how cruel and painful is the price of blood, and how difficult it is to repair social and economic damage caused by war,” he writes.  This is an opportune moment to recall that celebrated phrase of Pope Pius XII on war: ‘Nothing is lost by peace, everything may be lost in war’.”
Some of those that say that “Just War” Doctrine is obsolete argue that the Church should instead have a doctrine of “Just Peace.”  Blessed Romero might reply that it already does.

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