War ‘difficult to justify’
Don't let 'just war' debate cloud issue
By Johanna Bennett
We shouldn't be talking about the Catholic theory of 'just war'. It is a trap that could lead us to war with Iraq. We should talk instead about how abhorrent violence is - as Jesus did from the beginning to the end of his life.
This is the unusual take by Catholic peace campaigner Dr Claudio Maria Betti on one of the major issues gripping the Catholic community at the moment, as it contemplates a possible war with Iraq.
Dr Betti was speaking on ABC National Radio's Religion Report to what presenter Stephen Crittenden said were the many people of goodwill around Australia "who are despairing at the moment and wondering what they can do".
"What's your message to them?" he asked Dr Betti.
Dr Betti is director of special operations for the highly respected lay Community of Sant'Egidio, which is based in the ancient suburb of Trastevere in Rome.
The community dates back to the 1960s and is involved in work with the poor and ecumenism, as well as peace initiatives all over the world - it was involved in negotiating the peace settlement in Mozambique that ended the civil war there.
In regard to a possible Iraq war, Dr Betti suggested people "think globally, act globally, but also act locally".
"That means that every action, maybe the smallest one we can do, has value in the wider framework," he says.
"I think that Sant'Egidio is well known today for its actions for peace, but if we didn't have a continuous and grassroots work with the poor, I don't think this action for peace would have ever begun in our community.
"So I think there is a value in concrete, small acts of peace.
"On the more global scale and the problem of 'just or unjust war', we need to think about 200 years ago, about slavery.
"No one had ever thought that slavery could be abolished. I think today we are at the point where we can really think about abolishing war as a means of solving conflicts."
"Although it might seem difficult for us today, I think this is more or less the moment we can start to think about it, and in this way every one of us can work."
But Dr Betti warned against focusing on whether a war with Iraq would be a 'just war' as this could get in the way of achieving peace.
"This is a discussion that leads nowhere," he said.
Theories of war are based on ideological standpoints, he said. Who can tell us if today's is a just war or not?
"We should (instead) enter into the idea that war is always avoidable, and that human beings should not use war as a means of resolving their conflicts," Dr Betti said. "In this way we cut out the problem of just war or unjust war."
"We can talk about the abhorrence of violence by Jesus himself, from the beginning to the end of his life … War can be just or unjust, but it's always bad, it's always tragic, it's consequences are always terrible. And this we have not been able to say clearly."
If the UN voted for action against Iraq, it would not matter if this was "technically correct (because) technical correctness is not what we are looking for," he said.
He suggested instead that Christians pray for peace and, in doing so, commit themselves to asking the world for peace.
The Catholic Church has said quite clearly that there is always a possibility of avoiding war - as have the Christian Churches as a whole - but probably the reason they are not being heard is because they are talking a different language to their governments, said Mr Betti.
They might have more influence if they made the plight of Church leaders such as the Pope "more present in the daily life of the Christians", said Dr Betti.
"If ten per cent more Christians would just stand up and say 'no' to war, I think it would be much more complicated to make war anywhere."
Dr Betti spoke with Stephen Crittenden on ABC Radio National's Religion Report on February 12. To view a transcript of the discussion go to the ABC's website at: www.abc.net.au