Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

On just war, the Pope contradicts himself

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 22, 2022

“There is no such thing as a just war; they do not exist,” Pope Francis said on March 18. Thus the Pope contradicted hundreds of years of Catholic teaching on justice and warfare.

Then today, we hear from Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the Pope had expressed a sympathetic understanding of Ukraine’s defensive effort, saying “you must defend yourselves.” Thus the Pope contradicted himself.

What would you call the Ukrainian defense effort? Is it not obviously warfare? If you believe that Ukraine is justified in seeking to repel an aggressor, then you are arguing that this is a just war. Defense against aggression is a classic example of a casus belli, according to the just-war tradition. But Pope Francis has apparently dismissed that tradition.

Did Zelenskyy misquote the Pope? If so the Vatican should issue a prompt clarification. But this is not the first time that the Pope has been quoted saying something contrary to Church teaching—or, as in this case, contrary to his own public teaching—and the Vatican has remained silent, allowing the contradiction to stand.

If the Pope had said that every war involves injustice, that argument would be easy to defend, because innocent people are always hurt. But the just-war tradition teaches that there are times when a failure to fight would cause even greater suffering and injustice. A war fought to defend the innocent is a just cause.

If there is no such thing as a just war, then a country would have no moral choice but to surrender to any aggressor. Unless Pope Francis urged President Zelenskyy to surrender, there is a contradiction somewhere in the Pope’s recent statements. As usual he leaves us guessing which statement we should take seriously.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: dcnmthompson7484 - Mar. 22, 2022 8:57 PM ET USA

    The pope and my 8 year old saying things that wholly inconsistent. One of them has barely reached the age of reason and the other should know better.

  • Posted by: wacondaseeds4507 - Mar. 22, 2022 6:19 PM ET USA

    Possibly what he meant was there is no just war of aggression. I think sometimes he simply misspeaks off-the-cuff by inadvertently omitting important qualifiers in describing the obvious. I have done so myself.