Pope John Paul II on War and Peace

By Pope John Paul II

About Pope John Paul II

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI on War and Peace

Relevant Citations:

Cardinal Ratzinger, After the 9/11 Attacks Interview with Vatican Radio. November 2001:

Q: Is there any such thing as a "just war"?

Cardinal Ratzinger: This is a major issue of concern. In the preparation of the Catechism, there were two problems: the death penalty and just war theory were the most debated. The debate has taken on new urgency given the response of the Americans. Or, another example: Poland, which defended itself against Hitler.

I'd say that we cannot ignore, in the great Christian tradition and in a world marked by sin, any evil aggression that threatens to destroy not only many values, many people, but the image of humanity itself.

In this case, defending oneself and others is a duty. Let's say for example that a father who sees his family attacked is duty-bound to defend them in every way possible -- even if that means using proportional violence.

Thus, the just war problem is defined according to these parameters:

1) Everything must be conscientiously considered, and every alternative explored if there is even just one possibility to save human life and values;

2) Only the most necessary means of defense should be used and human rights must always be respected; in such a war the enemy must be respected as a human being and all fundamental rights must be respected.

I think that the Christian tradition on this point has provided answers that must be updated on the basis of new methods of destruction and of new dangers. For example, there may be no way for a population to defend itself from an atomic bomb. So, these must be updated.

But I'd say that we cannot totally exclude the need, the moral need, to suitably defend people and values against unjust aggressors.

Cardinal Ratzinger Says Unilateral Attack on Iraq Not Justified - Gives Personal Opinion; Favors Decision from U.N. Zenit News Service. Sept. 22, 2002.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger does not believe that a unilateral military attack by the United States against Iraq would be morally justifiable, under the current circumstances.

According to the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- who acknowledged that political questions are not within his competence -- "the United Nations is the [institution] that should make the final decision."

"It is necessary that the community of nations makes the decision, not a particular power," the cardinal said, after receiving the 2002 Trieste Liberal Award. His statements were published Saturday in the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

"The fact that the United Nations is seeking the way to avoid war, seems to me to demonstrate with enough evidence that the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save," the cardinal said.

He said that "the U.N. can be criticized" from several points of view, but "it is the instrument created after the war for the coordination -- including moral -- of politics."

The "concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church," Cardinal Ratzinger noted.

"One cannot simply say that the catechism does not legitimize the war," he continued. "But it is true that the catechism has developed a doctrine that, on one hand, does not exclude the fact that there are values and peoples that must be defended in some circumstances; on the other hand, it offers a very precise doctrine on the limits of these possibilities."

  • Interview with Zenit.org May 2, 2003:
    Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?

    Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.

    The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."

    * * *

    Excerpt from "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion - General Principles" L'espresso, June 2004:

    3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

    About Cardinal Ratzinger

  • George Weigel on the Iraq War Debate

    George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America's leading public intellectuals.

    From 1989 through June 1996, Weigel was president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he led a wide-ranging, ecumenical and inter-religious program of research and publication on foreign and domestic policy issues. From June 1996, as a Senior Fellow of the Center, Weigel prepared a major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II. Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II was published to international acclaim in the Fall of 1999.

    Weigel has been awarded ten honorary doctorates, the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, and the Gloria Artis Gold Medal by the Republic of Poland. He serves on the boards of directors of several organizations dedicated to human rights and the cause of religious freedom and is a member of the editorial board of First Things.

    Russell Shaw on the Iraq War Debate

    Russell Shaw is the author of eighteen books and is the former information director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference and Knights of Columbus.

    Debate with Robert Reilley - InsideCatholic.com.

    Selected Writings

    James V. Schall on Iraq and the War against Jihadism

    Georgetown University professor of government James V. Schall, S. J. has authored some 30 books on political theory and theology, including, most recently, The Regensburg Lecture (2007) and the Order of Things (2007). His website, a portal into his writings and course syllabi, is located here.

    Michael Novak on the Iraq War Debate

    Michael Novak is an American Catholic philosopher and diplomat. The author of almost 25 books on the philosophy and theology of culture, Novak is most widely known for his book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982). In 1994 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He writes books and articles focused on capitalism, religion, and the politics of democratization.

    Novak served as U.S. chief ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1981 and as the ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Novak is currently George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

    Richard J. Neuhaus and the Iraq War Debate

    Richard J. Neuhaus is a Catholic priest, the founder and editor of the monthly journal First Things and the author of several books, including The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1984), The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World (1987), and Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth (2006).

    Sandro Magister on the Iraq War Debate

    Sandro Magister is a journalist and reporter for the weekly magazine “L’espresso,” for which he has written since 1974. He specializes in religious news, in particular on the Catholic Church and the Vatican.

    James Turner Johnson and the Iraq War Debate

    Professor of Religion and Associate Member of the Graduate Department of Political Science at Rutgers -- The State University of New Jersey, where he has been on the faculty since 1969. His research and teaching have focused principally on the historical development and application of moral traditions related to war, peace, and the practice of statecraft. He is author of several books on the historical development and contemporary use of the just war tradition, including Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War: An Ethical Inquiry (1981), Morality and Contemporary Warfare (1999), and, most recently, The War to Oust Saddam Hussein : The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future (2005).

    Robert P. George and the Iraq War Debate

    Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is also a board member at Institute for Religion & Democracy.

    Just War in Iraq. Institute on Religion & Democracy. Jan. 10, 2003.

    Justice in War: Just War Theory. Interview w/ Kathryn Jean Lopez, NRO executive editor. NRO [National Review] Oct. 15, 2001.

    Deal H. Hudson and the Iraq War Debate

    Deal W. Hudson is the director of the Morley Institute for Church & Culture, and is the former publisher and editor of CRISIS Magazine, a Catholic monthly published in Washington, DC.

    War Drums. Crisis. Oct. 10, 2002.

    Making Our Own Decisions. Crisis. March 1, 2003.

    Daniel Darling on the Iraq Just War Debate

    Author of the now-defunct Regnum Crusis weblog and contributor to Winds of Change.


    Readings on the Iraq War Debate / "War on Terror"








    • The Rules of the Game: Just War Doctrine Hoover Institution Panel Discussion with Rev. Robert Sirico (President, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty); Rev. William McLennan (Dean of Religious Life, Stanford University) and Rabbi Daniel Lapin (President, Toward Tradition). November 14, 2001.
      Terrorism & Just War, by Martin L. Cook, Glen Stassen, Jean Bethke Elshtain, James Turner Johnson. Christian Century Nov. 14, 2001.
      Osama bin Laden and the Just Conduct of War, by John Kelsay. America October 2001.


      War: Beyond the hawks and the doves "In the wake of Kosovo, Catholic leaders ponder whether traditional moral approaches to warfare still make sense," by William Bole. Our Sunday Visitor July 4, 1999.

    Readings in the Catholic Just War Tradition

    The Iraq War Debate: Interviews and Symposiums