The Church Needs A New Approach to War

(Left to right) Rose Berger, Sr. TeresiaWamuyu Wachira, Elizabeth Kimau Kanini, Jasmin Galace.
(Left to right) Rose Berger, Sr. Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, Elizabeth Kimau Kanini, Jasmin Galace.

Some of you are tracking on the conference I attended in Rome last week on Catholics, Nonviolence, and Just Peace.

We heard an overwhelming response from representatives from the Majority World who are living in situations of extreme conflict (Congo, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan) that Just War theory and theology, as it is popularly understood, is killing them. We also heard an equally clear call for the church to overtly prioritize a theological, ethical, moral, practical, strategic, and pedagogical framework of Catholic peace, peacemaking, and strategic effective nonviolence as a tool for confronting evil.

This is not a new position or need on the part of the people of God. Every pope since Vatican II has called for Christians, especially Catholics, to actively turn away from war.

To be clear, at the Rome conference we did not call for the dismantling of international law that is based on just war principles. We did not call for abandoning the critical, ethical, strategic thinking that undergird how we limit violence, especially in war. We did, however, say that what the church teaches needs to be updated and that the world of war has changed so significantly, as it relates to both weaponry and civilians, that classic just war thinking has not adapted fast enough to deal with the suffering in the church at large.

Additionally, and more importantly, we said that we need the church as a global institution charged with the spiritual and moral development of humanity to apply its vast resources to comprehensive teaching on peace: from the parish to the pope. And that they church needs to educate and promote the vast new data on the objective effectiveness of  strategic nonviolence as a means for confronting injustice and evil. (Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth’s work, Why Civil Resistance Works, is most significant on this–and Maria was at the conference.)

This is an unfolding conversation. It’s the start of a new way forward. But “start” in the Catholic sense, as in we’ve been beginning for the last 50 years. Now is time for the global church to pick up the call and start writing, acting, studying, praying, teaching, analyzing, negotiating, etc out of this framework to birth it into fullness of life.–Rose Marie Berger

Here are some of the key public documents from the conference:
1. Cardinal Turkson’s address

2. Pope Francis’ letter 

3. Final statement from gathering: An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence

A round up of media coverage:
*Pax Christi has a list of international coverage available here.
*Joseph A. Komonchak on comparing the recent conference with the 1973 US Catholic bishops Lane and Dougherty committee meetings on Just War v Pacifism
*Terry Rynne on the shift of Christology as part of a needed reframing of a peace theology
*Former CIA senior leader Graham Fuller on welcoming an expansion beyond just war
*Damon Linker, senior correspondent at, says “Participants in the Vatican conference are right to highlight this moral defect within the just war tradition, arguing in a statement that too often it “has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war.”
*David Swanson 
*Tony Magliano on abandoning ‘just war’ language (The Saskatchewan Prairie Messenger)
*What Happens When You Replace a Just War With a Just Peace by Maria Stephan (Foreign Policy)

2 thoughts on “The Church Needs A New Approach to War”

  1. Thanks for your vitally important work on this and for all the resources you have been providing.

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