A reader writes:

Help me here. What do you do (how do you call yourself) when you can’t support the Pope’s own support of Arafat?

It’s the same with about the pending war with Iraq; referring to the recent statement put out by the president of the American bishops. The questions are right. The catechism references are right. It’s the “facts on the ground” which are wrong or muddled. His Grace and I are applying the same questions and references to different set of facts (and assumptions).

Back to Arafat. How can I support him as the Pope does? I can’t – the facts-on-the-ground don’t allow me to. I can’t, on good conscience and observation, budge on this. Am I a faithless Catholic for doing so?

If you’ve listened to what the Pope has to say, informed your conscience, and done your homework by really trying to understand the Tradition, and still disagree with the Vatican’s position on say Arafat or the war with Iraq, you call yourself a faithful Catholic who disagrees with the Pope about a matter of prudential judgment, not about a doctrine of the Church.

I have no idea whether you’ve done homework of listening to the Pope’s position on this, so I can’t say whether you are “faithless” or not. Most likely you are not faithless, or you wouldn’t bother to try to find out whether you were disobedient or not. I *can* say that it is quite legitimate for faithful Catholics to arrive at different conclusions than the Holy Father in areas of prudential judgement. The goal is to try as hard as possible to think with the Tradition. There is no guarantee we will all arrive at the same conclusions in matters of prudential judgment. Nor is there a demand from the Tradition that we always agree with the Holy Father about absolutely everything. The teaching of the Church is binding in matters of faith and morals. But with respect to the question of how the Church’s teaching on faith and morals is to be applied in the question of what to do about Arafat and Israel or war with Iraq, faithful Catholics can disagree legitimately–so long as they are truly seeking to think with the Tradition.

FWIW, while Palestinian terrorism is absolutely unjustifiable, there does remain the legitimate complaint of Palestinians over Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Terrorism is the absolutely immoral way to oppose this. But Rome is compelled (rightly, I think) to say that Israel’s doubled population of settlers there in the past ten years does not send the Palestinians much of a message that they can really have the land they’re supposed to get. Again, this does not justify Arafat’s thuggish kleptocracy, but it is one of those stubborn realities the Pope cannot ignore.

Personally, I think Israel is doing what it needs to in the short run (demolishing Arafat’s headquarters) and crushing terrorism wherever it’s found. But in the long run, Israel *still* needs to pull those settlers out of the West Bank, I think. But I think the main onus lies with Radical Islam and its fellow travelers to change or face annihilation from a civilized world that will not put up with their arrogant ignorant barbaric 10th century crap forever. If they remain eager to die, they will find a growing number of people who are eager to kill them. And it will be entirely just and necessary, should they continue to threaten the civilized world.

For help in the conscience-forming department, see the ever-invaluable George Weigel on Just War.