Since Cardinal Avery Dulles mentioned me in his article Vatican II: Substantive Teaching (3/31), I would like to make it clear that I also understand the Second Vatican Council to mean that it is only in the Catholic Church that the church of Christ continues to exist with all the institutional elements that Christ bestowed on his church. However, I have never understood subsists in to mean that it is only in the Catholic Church that the church of Christ continues to exist. If that were the case, one would have to say that in 1054 the church of Christ ceased to exist in half the Christian world. Then one could not describe the Orthodox churches as true particular churches, nor could one say that by the celebration of the Eucharist in those churches the church of God is being built up. The question at issue is whether the church of Christ is wider and more inclusive than the Catholic Church. It is not clear to me where Cardinals Ratzinger and Dulles stand on that question.
Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
I find George Weigel’s case for the war in Iraq thoroughly unconvincing (3/31). Clearly, the snubbing of the United Nations and the international communityincluding some of our best allieshas not only aggravated anti-American sentiment; more tragically, it has also destroyed a more sensible mechanism to promote change in Iraq without the needless destruction of innocent life. While no thinking person would support or defend the regime of Saddam Hussein, diplomatic means, with broad international support, should have been given further support, with war as a last resort and only with international support. My fear is that the unilateral actions of the Bush administration, in addition to costing many American and Iraqi lives, will only exacerbate terrorism and divisions in the world.
(Rev.) Steven Dunn
From the Trenches
Seventy-two years old and 45 years a priest, this nontheologian feels compelled to comment on Cardinal Avery Dulles’s article on the Second Vatican Council (2/24).
If the cardinal is right in his interpretation of the council as not having endorsed the liberating changes so many of us think it did, then I feel we should move beyond it as quickly as we can. I suspect, however, that he prefers the conservative batch among those differing views he notes the council tried to harmonize as a characteristic of its work.
It is not my intention here to engage in a polemic; rather, it is to express an opinion from the trenches that I know is shared by countless others. I look forward to the insights that competent theologians may want to contribute.
(Rev.) Richard G. Rento
Drew Christiansen, S.J., speaks of how the just war theory has evolved and continues to evolve (3/24). I think it is time to take a good look back and see the effects of this theory. Can anyone point to a world situation in which just war theory stopped a war? On the other hand, it is not hard to find many wars that did not fulfill the just war theory, but were carried on by Catholics and other Christians, with bishops and other prelates blessing the troops marching off to kill. Even those wars that seemed to have a just cause, such as stopping Hitler in World War II, violated other aspects of the theory, such as saturation bombing and the use of the atomic bomb, which targeted civilians. Instead of stopping wars, this theory has allowed leaders to urge their people to fightOur cause is just!and millions can salve their consciences that the war was declared by appropriate authority.
As I read the article I had a vision of what it would be like if the Catholic Church were pacifist. Millions of Catholics would refuse to fight, bishops and priests would denounce wars from the pulpit, parents would instruct their children in peacemaking. Some pacifist churches, like the Quakers, actually do this, but they are only small groups. If Catholics advocated peace, it could actually make a difference.
While the world watches the bombs fall on Iraq, no one has noticed that another battle has already begun. The battle is not between the United States and Iraq, nor between the free world and terrorism. It is not even between Christians and Muslims. The battle is a personal one, a spiritual one.
It is being waged within each and every one of us. It is a struggle between our tendency toward evil and our call to do what is right. In a sense, the only real enemy is ourselves. What is at stake is not the securing of oil fields in the Middle East or the expansion of democracy and freedom or even the prevention of terrorist attacks. These are nothing but self-deceptions that distract us from seeing what war will really accomplish. It is our souls that are at stake, and our nation’s. War risks their loss.
Should our physical survival take precedence over our spiritual survival? Why are we letting fear drive us to do the things that we abhor? We do abhor war, don’t we? How can we justify a war that will kill thousands and invite the cycle of violence to dominate our future? When did our thirst for retribution drain our capacity to forgive? When did power and control become more important than a humble acknowledgment of our dependence on God?
We have the most powerful array of weapons and forces the world has ever seen, yet these same powerful weapons have made us weak. This military power has allowed us to let our diplomatic skills deteriorate from disuse or misuse. We are as hooked on violent solutions to our problems as are the terrorists. And that same military power and our addiction to using it undermines the legitimacy of our demand for other nations to disarm. It also gives those nations a very good reason for ignoring our demand. Don’t the citizens of the greatest nation on earth deserve leaders who can accomplish their goals without resorting to violence or the threat of violence?
How can a pro-life, compassionate conservative president seek to lead this nation along the same misguided path followed by the terrorists? If we accept the principle of pre-emptive war as a means to prevent terrorist attacks on our soil, how are we any different from the terrorists, who also use violence to accomplish their goals? If we accept the principle of pre-emptive war, haven’t we already lost the one battle that really counts? Haven’t we become our enemy?
Stephen D. Stratoti
Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
Thank you for Wahhabism and Jihad, by Patrick Lang (3/10). This provides at least some insight into the different variations of Islam, as well as a view of the source of one of the most dangerous religious movements of the modern world. After all, this is not some little cult of 100 or so.
Joan E. Burke
I write first to thank America for its compassionate and clear editorial voice, as demonstrated in the issue of April 7 and previous issues, as well as for its openness to the many perspectives shaping the church and world today.
Second, I write to comment on the military archbishop’s letter to priests cited in Signs of the Times on April 7. The archbishop’s letter was quoted as saying that armed forces personnel could carry out their military duties in good conscience in the pre-emptive war on Iraq under a presumption regarding the integrity of our leadership and its judgment. Given the complexity of factors that the archbishop noted, not the least of which have been consistent Vatican statements opposing the war, such guidance was certainly warranted. I did not read, or it was not cited, accompanying counsel from the archbishop for those Catholics in the military who in good conscience believe the Iraq war to be unjust. Embedded as he and the military chaplaincy are in the military establishment, it may be too much to expect statements from him regarding Catholic conscientious objection to this war. Nevertheless, I hope such support is being offered to Catholic military personnel at an individual or pastoral level.
Still, some clear, public pronouncement from hierarchical leadership regarding Catholic conscientious objection to this war, however controversial for the U.S. Catholic Church, was clearly just as warranted by the complex factors and Vatican statements as the statement quoted giving personnel the all clear for war. As for a presumption regarding the integrity and judgment of the American political leadership, such presumption is never absolute in a democracy like ours, as it would no doubt be in countries like Iraq, Iran and North Korea, to name just three. When any individual service person judges in good conscience that a military action is wrong, no such presumption can exist.