The Vatican’s justice and peace office and Pax Christi International hosted a conference last week to discuss how the Church should address global issues like war, oppression and injustice. Such broad and complicated topics inevitably court a wide range of opinions on the Church's role as an agency of peace and justice.
Participants at the conference called for the Catholic Church to reject its teachings on just war and requested that Pope Francis write an encyclical on a new approach they termed "just peace," according to the Catholic Herald.
Conference attendees claimed the modern employment of just war doctrine has strayed from its original goal of preventing military action and has instead promoted military action.
St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) was the first to propose the concept of "just wars," which permit the use of force under certain circumstances to prevent unjust action.
But the group insisted on replacing the centuries-old Church practice with a more peaceful teaching “consistent with Gospel nonviolence” to be explained by Francis in the proposed new encyclical.
“The time has come for our church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices,” a statement released by the group said.
Francis, named after the peace-promoting St. Francis of Assisi, has affirmed previous popes in condemning wars and encouraging peace and forgiveness. The pope echoed these values in a message he wrote to attendees before the April 11-13 conference began.
"The basic premise is that the ultimate and most deeply worthy goal of human beings and of the human community is the abolition of war," he wrote.
But, Francis acknowledged, war is sometimes inevitable given that humans are sinful. The statements that followed seemed to uphold the doctrine of just war as explained during Vatican II:
"In this vein, we recall that the only explicit condemnation issued by the Second Vatican Council was against war, although the Council recognized that, since war has not been eradicated from the human condition, 'governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defence once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted,'" the pope wrote.
Pope Francis has, however, supported military action against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, where Christian minorities have been persecuted for their beliefs. In 2014, Francis said it was “licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” but clarified that any military action must gain the approval of the international community and that the type of force must be carefully assessed, the Catholic Herald reported.