As our nation makes momentous decisions about the use of military force, there is renewed interest in the Church's teaching on the ethics of war and peace. The following excerpts from the U.S. Catholic Bishops'1993 statement, The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace, provides a summary of key elements of the Church's teaching, including the principles of the just war tradition.
is Sown in Peace
A Reflection of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops
on the Tenth Anniversary of The Challenge of Peace
November 17, 1993
- Theology, Spirituality and Ethics for Peacemaking
The Centrality of Conscience
The task of peacemaking requires both just structures and a properly formed conscience. Our policies and structures of peace will reflect the integrity of the individuals who design and participate in them.
For people of faith, this commitment involves a life-long task of reflecting on Sacred Scripture, cultivating virtues, understanding and applying wisely the Church's teaching on peace and praying for guidance. We are grateful for all that has been done in the past decade by so many to help form consciences, and we are aware of how much more we can and must do to better translate our moral reflections on war and peace into informed commitments of conscience.
In this statement, just as in our pastoral letter of ten years ago, we state some universally applicable moral principles that are binding on all persons. For example, it is immoral for a commander to issue or for a soldier to obey a command to intentionally kill noncombatants in war. Concrete applications of universal principles such as our call to reject the first use of nuclear weapons and the targeting of nonnuclear states, and our call for nuclear disarmament are judgments about which Catholics may disagree. As we said in the peace pastoral, we "do not presume or pretend that clear answers exist to many of the personal, professional and financial choices" facing those in the military and defense industries. "We seek as moral teachers and pastors to be available to all who confront these questions of personal and vocational choice."8 We hope that they will evaluate seriously the moral basis for our specific judgments and the implications for their work. And we will continue to improve our own efforts to offer our support and guidance to these and others who struggle on a daily basis to integrate their faith and their work.
There is also a need to define further the proper relationship between the authority of the state and the conscience of the individual on matters of war and peace. In 1983, we restated our long-standing position on military service:
- A citizen may not casually disregard his country's conscientious decision to call its citizens to acts of "legitimate defense." Moreover, the role of Christian citizens in the armed forces is a service to the common good and an exercise of the virtue of patriotism, so long as they fulfill this role within defined moral norms.9
- As we hold individuals in high esteem who conscientiously serve in the armed forces, so also we should regard conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection as positive indicators within the Church of a sound moral awareness and respect for human life.11