Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 24, 2007
American deserters deserve the support of the Canadian Catholic Church
History shows Catholics defied immoral wars
By JOE McMORROW
The overwhelming majority of Catholic moral theologians agree with these deserters: the Iraq war
The only German Catholic to oppose Hitler's wars on the grounds of it being unjust was recently beatified. Franz Jagerstatter was a farmer with a grade school education, a husband and father of three little girls.
His bishop and pastor did not support his conscientious stand but rather urged him to relent.
Had Jagerstatter been imprisoned for resisting Nazi euthanasia policies, however, he almost certainly would have received pastoral encouragement.
There is much to be learned from Sophie Scholl and Franz Jagerstatter. Since their death and in part due to their witness, the Second Vatican Council recognized the validity of selective conscientious objection to war.
Catholics are now advised to refuse to participate in an unjust war. This teaching, however, has yet to be understood and lived.
The general indifference by Canadian Catholics to the plight of American war deserters who have fled to Canada in recent years rather than fight in Iraq is evidence that selective conscientious objection to war is still viewed as somehow not a valid Catholic moral position.
This, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Catholic moral theologians agree with these deserters: the Iraq war is unjust; desertion, in a situation where there are no other alternatives, is preferable to participation in an unjust war.
The war in Iraq is conservatively estimated to have taken the lives of over 100,000 civilians and violates every traditional criterion used to justify war: the invasion of Iraq is not defensive, is not declared by a lawful authority, is not a last resort, does not sufficiently distinguish between civilian and military participants, and is not likely to create more good than the harm it is inflicting.
(Pope Benedict) St. Francis of Assisi and Jean Vianney, the Curé of Ars, are also war resisters.
Yet, the plight of American deserters who have fled to Canada for refuge has not drawn a word of attention from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB.)
Imagine what our Church's response would be if these soldiers were military pharmacists, doctors or nurses who refused to provide abortions in military hospitals and to avoid prosecution fled to Canada for refuge? A clear statement and active practical support from the Church would be immediate and thunderous.
On the need to resist war, however, we are still largely passive and compliant. Canadian Catholics do not connect discipleship with Jesus Christ and active opposition to war for one major reason: their Church has never adequately and clearly addressed war as a moral issue.
The CCCB, since it was established, has never created on its own a public document or statement of position in regards to war. It is embarrassing that the voice that Canadian Catholics hear calling for the right to sanctuary for U.S. war objectors is that of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW.)
Jesus non-violently objected against the use of religious and political power that contributed to the suffering of the poor, the sick and the ritually unclean. Jesus' objection took the form of non-cooperation, of symbolic resistance, of openly violating oppressive laws and of encouraging his disciples to do the same.
The Spirit of Jesus still inspires young men and women to resist ideologies and governments that oppress the innocent.
It is worth noting that Pope Benedict is an army deserter. In 1945, at age 18, he deserted the German army; he abandoned his post and went home to his parents. St. Francis of Assisi and Jean Vianney, the Curé of Ars, are also war resisters.
Today, there are a large number of conscientious American soldiers who have deserted and are seeking refuge in Canada. Some of these deserters are Catholic. They are worthy of our support because they are solidly grounded in Catholic social teaching. It is time our Church publicly supported their appeal for refuge.
(Joe McMorrow, in 1962, received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. He is a permanent deacon and an adjunct faculty member at Newman Theological College.)
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