Harder Than War: Catholic Peacemaking in Twentieth-Century America

By Patricia McNeal | Go to book overview

8
Catholic Peacemaking

IN MAY 1983, THE National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) issued a pastoral letter on war and peace, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response. It was a watershed in the teaching of the Roman Catholic church in America on the issues of war and peace. For the first time since the early Christian period, pacifism and nonviolence were officially recognized as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The document also emphasized the different levels of church teaching on war and peace and in an unprecedented manner emphasized the role of individual conscience and the right to dissent. Thus, the document permitted individual Catholics to legitimately disagree on various aspects of war and peace and still remain Catholics in good standing.1 The Challenge of Peace was an attempt to create a new vision of peacemaking for American Catholics. The letter concluded with the following injunction: "Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus. The content and context of our peacemaking is set, not by some political agenda or ideological program, but by the teaching of His Church."2 The efforts of the American Catholic peace movement to build a pacifist constituency solidly within the institutional church contributed greatly to NCCB's pastoral letter. These efforts to influence the institutional church became most effective in the post-Vietnam War period.

The Catholic peace movement maintained its vigor while the broader American peace movement collapsed after the withdrawal of American soldiers from Vietnam and the end of military induction. The most important reasons why the Catholic peace movement grew in strength was the emergence of a resistance community, Jonah

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