Page 4, 9th July 1982

9th July 1982
Page 4
Page 4, 9th July 1982 — The Pope as judge in secular disputes

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The Pope as judge in secular disputes

J. PARKINSON (June 25) pulls me up, I see, for saying that "it isn't for the Pope to judge uninvited the rights and wrongs" in a secular dispute such as the Falkands one. But I would assure him that such has been the prudent policy of the Popes for a long time now — prudent, that is, lest in matters outside the scope of infallibility they impose unwarranted pressure on conscience. As witness the present Pope's care, both here and in Argentina, not to censure anyone overtly on either side.

If formally invited to judge, of course, as has often happened, the case is different: cf. Epstein's standard work, Catholic Tradition of the Law of Nations (1935 edition, pp. 470-4 for a list of such "Interventions by Invitation" over the period 1598 to 1914).

But to meet Mr. Parkinson on the main issue he raises, "war in general and nuclear war in particular", I note his conclusion that the Church's teaching now "shows a decided move towards change ...". He doesn't, alas, quote what "change", but I suspect yet another attempt here to fasten on our long-suffering Pope John Paul one more teaching he conspicuously doesn't teach, viz, disarmament unilaterally.

The anxiety to see in the Church's teaching what isn't there, and not to see what is, bodes nothing new (cf. St Paul's many anxious warnings: I Cor 11:17-19, II Tim 4:3-4, and others). Even so I would ask Mr Parkinson, and others of his opinion, to look again at, say, the latest encyclial, Laborem exercens, at 2, where John Paul confirms for "all men and women of good will" the continuing validity of John XXIII's Pacem in Terris: as valid in general, in expressing the Church's "twofold commitment" to "justice and peace", as "supported by the permanent threat of nuclear war"; (my italics) and valid in particular in setting out "The key position, as regards the question of world peace".

To turn then to Pope John's key, pre-Vatican II encyclical of April 1963.

Certainly we find the Pope "deeply distressed" at the arms build-up (P.T. 109) and aware "that at any moment the impending storm may break with horrific violence" (111); wherefore. "Nuclear weapons must be banned" (112). But as to how, the UND alternative is simply not there to be seen. Instead (112 goes on), "A general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament programme, with an effective system of mutual control" — true peace being dependent "solely on mutual trust" (113).

So too in Pope John Paul's World Peace Day Message of 1982, the nuclear threat "only underlines" the need for "effective means of negotiation", UND as a course of action remaining conspicuous for its absence.

And I conclude that in fact no turn-about threatens the principles on which we are to disarm, as disarm we must. We have been "ransomed by the blood of Jesus Christ" (P.T. 10) and the human rights and duties that derive therefrom (cf. P.T. 11 to 45) are not strictly ours to leave around undefended, "the right to worship God according to conscience" (P.T. 14) least of all.

For all this we need conviction, of course, and prayer and trust in the guidance Christ has won for us. But what else is life about?

S. E. MacKensie

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