Francis on Iraq

Here’s the full text. Particularly interesting is his defusing of the “Pope calls for war!” narrative that was getting some play last week:

Q. You know that recently the U.S. forces have started bombing the terrorists in Iraq, to prevent a genocide, to protect minorities, including Catholics who are under your guidance. My question is this: do you approve the American bombing?

A. Thanks for such a clear question. In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say this: it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underline the verb: stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means. With what means can they be stopped? These have to be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit.

But we must also have memory. How many times under this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor the powers [that intervened] have taken control of peoples, and have made a true war of conquest.

One nation alone cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War there was the idea of the United Nations. It is there that this should be discussed. Is there an unjust aggressor? It would seem there is. How do we stop him? Only that, nothing more.

Secondly, you mentioned the minorities. Thanks for that word because they talk to me about the Christians, the poor Christians. It’s true, they suffer. The martyrs, there are many martyrs. But here there are men and women, religious minorities, not all of them Christian, and they are all equal before God.

To stop the unjust aggressor is a right that humanity has, but it is also a right that the aggressor has to be stopped so that he does not do evil.

This looks about right. So if the past is any indicatio, people will freak out about it.

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  • Matthew


    Seriously, how is this not exhausting for people?

  • AquinasMan

    Interesting angle… “To stop the unjust aggressor is a right that humanity has, but it is also a right that the aggressor has to be stopped so that he does not do evil.”

    Probably a translation issue, but can anyone else unpack what he’s saying here? It can be read a couple of ways, I think. But I’m not sure.

    • “Right” is an interesting choice of words. But I think he is saying that we have a duty in charity to admonish sinners for their own repentance and salvation – even to the point of removing the opportunity to sin. It is a work of mercy to do so, and an act of love because it genuinely seeks the good of the other.

      If we have a duty toward others, then one can say they have a right to it.

      My guess is he chose that manner of phrasing it, not only for the rhetorical parallel, but also for the shock value, which opens up new avenues of thinking about the role and purpose of armed resistance, self-defense, and just war.

    • He’s simply pointing out that we want to stop A from harming B, not only for the sake of B but also for the sake of A.

  • AquinasMan

    Also sending a very strong signal that he will not hesitate to retire, if need be.

    But if one thinks that 70 years ago emeritus bishops also were an exception. They did not exist, but today emeritus bishops are an institution.

    I think that the emeritus pope is already an institution because our life gets longer and at a certain age there isn’t the capacity to govern well because the body gets tired, and maybe one’s health is good but there isn’t the capacity to carry forward all the problems of a government like that of the church.

    This is red meat for papal theologians everywhere. Wow.

  • David Gerard Smith

    To anyone familiar with just war theory there is nothing remarkable in Francis’ statement. The only notable part is that it is not in the context of Vatican handwringing typical of these situations. He is, of course, adding to traditional just war theory with his statement that this should not be unilateral. Politically, consensus is helpful but not morally requisite. Obviously, he over estimates the value of the UN, but such is to be expected from third world nationals since the UN provides a sense equality they do not experience in international realpolitic.

    • Well, the question was about the American bombings, so the UN is the appropriate venue for discerning American action outside of America. The residents of Mosul and the other territories occupied by the IS have no need to appeal to an international body to defend their own lives, property, and territory.

      Also, I agree that the UN is far from ideal as an international diplomatic body, but it is the one we’ve got at the moment. So until and unless the UN treaties become actively unjust – or until we have a better alternative – we ought to use the imperfect means we have to pursue peace. We also ought to work to improve the UN and/or to propose a better international body.

      • David Gerard Smith

        We agree on the limited usefulness of the UN. I disagree that its involvement is necessary here. The UN is essentially a political body. The decision about whether military action is just is a moral decision and a political body is a poor setting for such a debate. The best the UN can do is provide political cover for the decision.

        • I don’t want to argue over the UN. I simply want to understand you.

          What do you mean by “essentially a political body”? What is the problem you see with having debates about moral action in a “political body”?

          My understanding of the word “politics” or “political” is “having to do with the policies of a polis/government/nation.” So I am having trouble understanding where else debates about moral actions of nations or between nations could take place other than a “political body.” This leads me to think I don’t fully understand what you mean.


          • David Gerard Smith

            For the sake of discussion we will use your definition of politics, but it is wise to keep in mind that politics is also the practice of the art of the possible.

            Also, for sake of this discussion let us limit the definition of political bodies to legislative bodies and bodies empowered to authorize actions. They engage in policy debates.

            Moral debates can take place anywhere and morality should be a part of policy debates. Often it is not. Policy debates are much more far reaching than moral debates. They include practical considerations. Of course they also include partisan concerns, hence “the art of the possible.”

            It is obvious that political bodies are not very good at rendering moral decisions. That is evident by the fact that the political bodies, i.e. legislatures, of different states have adopted conflicting laws. The gay marriage issue demonstrates this. Morality is not determined democratically. It is determined by moral law, not civil law.

            The enactment or endorsement of a political body does not confer moral status on the act it adopts. The ability of one faction to win its desired outcome in a political body does nothing to render an act moral or immoral.

  • Elijah fan

    But Benedict said five years ago that both the UN and international finance did not have teeth… possibly for protecting… here in section 67 of Caritas in Veritate:

    ” there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect…”

    The trouble with it having teeth is that it may sanction nations who oppose gay marriage and abortion ….with new teeth. So the UN as military power that Francis is promoting if it got teeth could become the UN as imposer of secular values.

    as per:

    • And the United States isn’t a promoter of secular values? Part of the reason they “hate our freedoms” is that we’ve used that liberty to become the world’s prime purveyors of filth and godlessness.

      • Elijah fan

        Yes ISIS is very chaste….excepting widow and virgin enslavement post murder of husbands and fathers. All academic. The UN is 25% funded by the US who is in arrears until the UN lowers us to 22%.

    • Joseph

      He was citing the formulation of the UN as an example, not as the force to stop the Muslim slaying of innocents worldwide. At least that’s how I interpreted it.

  • Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry . – St. Padre Pio

  • Meggan Conway

    I just noticed that the AP headline is “Pope endorses use of force to protect minorities.”

    I didn’t get that from what he said.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Yeah. I’ve also seen that… The title and the text just… don’t match!

  • Joseph

    Wow. That was a beautiful reply by Pope Francis. Very saintly I might add!

  • kirthigdon

    Fox News and are very busy co-opting Pope Francis for the newest Iraq War, the former explicitly stating on its morning show that Francis has endorsed the US use of force against the Islamic State. I’m sure many Catholics who get all of their news from Fox will be using the Pope’s supposed endorsement as an argument in favor of war. Meanwhile, after a couple of airdrops of supplies, the Obomber regime has declared that the refugee crisis isn’t all that great anyway and many of the Yazidis are claiming that they have been victimized not so much by the IS fighters as by their Moslem Sunni Arab neighbors. Obomber has switched his attention to airstrikes enabling the Kurdish pesh merga to recapture a strategic dam, with an attempt to retake Mosul apparently in the works. Should the IS decide to dig in and fight building to building and block to block, the latter could end up being a textbook example of “destroying the village (in this case a major city) in order to save it”.

    Kirt Higdon