Friday, May 20, 2011

Just War, Capital Punishment & Violence

In reading much of what Catholics, in leadership and from the academy, write lately, it is often difficut to perceive that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2263-2267) clearly supports the use of defensive violence to protect the innocent in the form of just war and capital punishment since its beginning.

This article from The Catholic Thing looks at the word violence from the perspective of the Church.

An excerpt.

L ‘Osservatore Romano for 30 March had this headline: “Let the Weapons Be Silenced in Libya and Let Dialogue Begin.” The implication was that “dialogue” can always take the place of arms. The status quo is better than change. The assumption is that the recourse to arms is not calculated or rational in its own way. Human experience often tells us that before any meaningful discussion takes place arms or violence have to be met with arms or violence. It is an odd reading of human nature and history to imply that all we have to do is lay down arms and “dialogue.” Then, all will be well. Enemies exist for whom “dialogue” is not a significant category except as an aid to gain their ends without arms.

“In a Good Friday interview on Italian Television, Benedict XVI responded to the question of a Muslim woman: “Violence never comes from God, never helps bring anything good, but is a destructive means and not the path to escape difficulties. He (Christ) is thus a strong voice against every type of violence” (ORE, April 27). The papal offices are filled with pleas for peacemakers and non-violence, for dialogues of every sort.

“Almost never do we hear discussed the issue of just war or legitimate, indeed obligatory, defense measures. The Holy Father speaks regularly to Italian and Vatican police, to military chaplains, and of course to diplomats. In his Regensburg Address, Benedict did indicate that areas of discussion and dialogue would have to be protected from violence for them to function. This almost unequivocal condemnation of “violence,” however, seems curious to me. It lacks precision. A reasonable case can be made for the need and use of arms that is not simply “violence” in the pejorative sense.

“In thinking about this recent turn in ecclesiastical discourse, which often sounds like pacifism, I recalled the discussion of Yves Simon in which he carefully distinguished between violence and coercion. In his famous Philosophy of Democratic Government, Simon pointed out that the term “violence” is not always simply negative. Just and unjust uses of violence are to be distinguished. “‘Violence,’ Simon writes, “is sometimes used as a synonym of ‘coercion.’ In this sense the arrest of a burglar by a police officer is an act of violence. Anybody can see that this is loose language, to be prohibited whenever scientific rigor is needed. Not the policeman, but the burglar, is violent.”

“Violence and coercion are thus distinguished. Coercion is the use of adequate force according to man-made law, as an application of natural law. Police officers and soldiers are established to bring criminals to justice, to prevent “violence” that is not rooted in justice. This fact does not deny that occasions can occur when private citizens have to defend themselves against criminals in lieu of the immediate aid of law. Much of the “violence” of the present drug “trade” falls into this area. Nor does it mean that the police or military may not act contrary to their own law. But it does mean that the sanctioned use of force should not be called “violence” as if it has no responsible reason or cause.”