War, Morality, and the Military Profession

By Malham M. Wakin | Go to book overview
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17 The Just War and Non-Violence Positions

U.S. Catholic Bishops

The May 1983 pastoral letter of the U.S. Catholic Bishops received considerable national and international attention and generated discussions throughout the United States for many months after its publication. In this excerpt from the pastoral letter the bishops discuss the defense of peace from both the point of view of non-violence and from the just war tradition. They point out that in their tradition, non-violence (or other forms of pacifism) constitutes an option open to individuals but not to governments. They refer frequently to statements of Pope Pius XII, Pope John Paul II, and to positions incorporated in "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" from Vatican Council II. After stressing the basic presumption against war, the bishops delineate their version of just- war theory in some detail, emphasizing the right to protection against aggression but stressing the constraints in waging war imposed by the principles of proportionality and discrimination. The latter principles play a critical role in the bishops' position on nuclear weapons, which was the most controversial portion of the pastoral letter. Excerpts explaining that position are contained in Chapter 30 of this volume.

—M.M.W.


1. The Nature of Peace

The Catholic tradition has always understood the meaning of peace in positive terms. Peace is both a gift of God and a human work.

Excerpts from "The Challenge of Peace:"God's Promise and Our Response, © 1983 by the United States Catholic Conference, Washington, D.C., are used with permission. All rights reserved. A copy of the complete pastoral letter may be ordered from the Office of Publishing Services, USCC, 1312 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

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