Editorial: The Scandal of the Church’s Support of War

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 24, Pentecost 2002

The ongoing revelations of paedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church are appalling. That one child was ever hurt, much less hundreds or even thousands, is unconscionable. That they were hurt by priests who were supposed to be serving them, and that the Church has continued to cover up these abuses, are a grave injustice.

Like everyone, I am deeply saddened by the hurt that has been done by Church people, and with everyone in the Church, apologize to anyone who was hurt. I hope that the Church indeed makes sure this violence never happens again, and that our Church finally learns to reject its love of power, domination, secrecy and sexism to become the community of peace and nonviolence that Jesus calls us to be.

If the Church is finally to become a community of peace and nonviolence, following in the footsteps of its nonviolent founder, then it must of course ordain women and married people and include everyone in its embrace. It must always side with the poor and the oppressed in the struggle for justice.

If the Church is finally to become a community of peace and nonviolence, following in the footsteps of its nonviolent founder, then it must of course ordain women and married people and include everyone in its embrace. It must always side with the poor and the oppressed in the struggle for justice.

Today, the Church reflects the culture’s false spirituality of violence, the belief that war is necessary, that war is justified, that war is even blessed by God. Over the centuries, the Church modeled itself on the empire, created a similar leadership based on domination and “lording it over others,” rejected the Sermon on the Mount as impractical, invented the just war theory, and lived off the comforts of the culture of violence instead of risking the challenge of Gospel nonviolence, the cross and the resurrection.

Last November, nearly all the U.S. Catholic bishops voted to bless and support the bombing and mass murder of the people of Afghanistan. We know that some 4000 civilians were killed during the first two months of that U.S. war. Hundreds of children were killed by the United States, and the Catholic bishops condoned their murder.

Talk about child abuse!

The Church cannot condemn child abuse by paedophiles and yet bless the government’s murder of children in its wars, if it wants to be consistent and faithful to Christ. Until the Church rejects war once and for all, and adopts the consistency of Gospel nonviolence, it will continue to lose any moral credibility, and children around the world will continue to suffer and die.

The heart of Christianity is the nonviolent Jesus who commanded that we not only love one another, but that we put away the sword and love even our enemies. His teaching is too radical for any of us to handle. Yet if Christians would sincerely follow Christ, they must renounce killing and violence in whatever form they take.Gandhi said Jesus was the most active practitioner of nonviolence in history, and the only people who don’t know that Jesus was nonviolent are Christians. There is no way around the difficult, radical nonviolence of Christ. It is the center of all his teachings, and until we fully embrace his nonviolence, we will continue to fall far short of his vision. But if the Church and all Christians adopt Christ’s nonviolence, love our enemies, and resist our country’s wars, we will not only learn integrity and fidelity, we may even help stop the killings and destruction of the planet. In the end, all communities of faith, including the Churches, synagogues and mosques, will play a critical role in saving us from the brink of global destruction. The religious communities can dare to stand with our country’s enemies, see the humanity in their eyes, love them and defend them. As Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement showed, the Churches can play a key role in practicing active nonviolent resistance to systemic injustice and war, and build the grassroots movement for social change. They can become prophetic communities that denounce war and injustice, and announce the vision of a more just, peaceful society where war, poverty and nuclear weapons no longer exist. The Church must renounce its complicity in the ultimate child abuse of war, beginning with our government’s mass murder of children in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Colombia. When the Church gives itself in the prophetic defense of all victims of war, and confronts the Pentagon and Bush’s war, then it will discover true integrity and authenticity, and resemble the radical vision of its founder.

—John Dear, SJ

Jesuit priest John Dear, a Ploughshares activist, is director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, New York.

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