The Pope points to an alternative path in Syria

Phillip, on another thread, reminded me of Peggy Noonan’s column this morning (or technically, her column tomorrow, since that’s when it appears in print), in which she praised the Pope for his input into the debate over Syria:

After 10 days of debate in Europe and America, the wisest words on a path forward have come from the Pope. Francis wrote this week to Vladimir Putin, as the host of the G-20. He damned “the senseless massacre” unfolding in Syria and pleaded with the leaders gathered in St. Petersburg not to “remain indifferent”—remain—to the “dramatic situation.” He asked the governments of the world “to do everything possible to assure humanitarian assistance” within and without Syria’s borders.

But, he said, a “military solution” is a “futile pursuit.”

And he is right. The only strong response is not a military response.

The world must think—and speak—with stature and seriousness, of the moment we’re in and the darkness on the other side of the door. It must rebuke those who used the weapons, condemn their use, and shun the users. It must do more, in concert—surely we can agree on this—to help Syria’s refugees. It must stand up for civilization.

But a military strike is not the way, and not the way for America.

Francis was speaking, as popes do, on the moral aspects of the situation. In America, practical and political aspects have emerged, and they are pretty clear….

I deeply appreciate the Pope’s intervention into this situation. He’s saying things we need to consider. That’s not saying I’m entirely convinced that we don’t need to act militarily. There are times when force must be used against those who use force against the defenseless.

But I acknowledge that it remains debatable whether this is indeed one of those times. I still think it is, but the Holy Father is making me think even harder about it…

23 thoughts on “The Pope points to an alternative path in Syria

  1. Doug Ross

    The Pope tweeted (wrap your head around THAT!) today: War never again! Never again war!

    Can a Catholic member of the military obey his Commander in Chief and disobey the Pope?
    Just do it and confess later?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I didn’t see that Tweet when I looked just now, but I saw these:

      Peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity#prayforpeace
      Dear young people, pray with me for peace in the world #prayforpeace
      All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. #prayforpeace
      Let the cry for peace ring out in all the world!#prayforpeace

      I have to say, this Pope seems to be making better use of Twitter than any Pope in the last several centuries…

      And Doug, in case you’re not being facetious…

      I see nothing in any of the Pope’s statements that places a direct obligation on a Catholic soldier to disobey orders from those who are legally in command over him. I see his words as directed at those deciding what to do, not those who are legally bound to follow the orders that are decided upon.

      1. Doug Ross

        Sorry, but I don’t see any qualifiers on “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.

        I am 100% serious with my question. You can’t serve two masters. If God is first, you can’t
        ignore the Pope’s words. Or does this fall into the condom wearing Catholics category?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Sorry, Brian. It actually DOES work, but it’s not artfully expressed.

      More simply put: “I’m not entirely convinced by the Pope’s argument. In other words, I haven’t been talked out of the need to act militarily.”

      But I’m impressed that both the Pope and Peggy Noonan are saying these things, and saying them pretty persuasively. If you want to call that waffling, go ahead.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        But you are a professional word artist. When you do not express things artfully, or perhaps better said, in a rococo art, we suspect obfuscation…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s what I see as a flaw in what the Pontiff is saying… and of course, I say this with all due respect…

    The alternative to the United States (and France) acting militarily is not “peace.” Maybe Francis isn’t setting that up as the choice, but it seems that he is.

    The choice is between war and war.

    To elaborate, the choice is between:
    — a war in which Assad continues doing what he’s doing, brutally oppressing his people without paying any price for crimes against humanity (and, to be fair, a war in which some of the rebels are doing some pretty nasty things as well), and is fully empowered to keep committing such crimes, and
    — a war in which a stronger power than his own has taken action to reduce his ability to use chemical weapons in the future, even if only marginally.

    Of course, that latter description assumes that we do something that genuinely reduces his air assets, or destroys some portion of his chemical weapon stores. Not strikes in which we just blow up a utility shed in the desert.

    I agree wholeheartedly that we should be doing everything we can to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. We have a moral obligation to do so. But I fail to see how our doing that in any way slows down Assad in waging his war. His survival depends on victory, and he will pursue it at any cost. We can act to degrade his ability to do so, or not. Either way, he’ll be waging war until either he or his opposition is crushed.

    Situations such as this remind me of a question raised by the Roman tribune Marcellus in the novel, “The Robe.” He was impressed by the moral lesson in the Good Samaritan parable. But he asked, what if the Samaritan had arrived as the robber was attacking the traveler? Wouldn’t his moral obligation have been to intervene and fight off the robber BEFORE he beat the traveler nearly to death? (The question was not answered, as I recall.)

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    Miz Dubs just shared St. Peter’s FB post of a photo of the Pope with a call for a day of prayers for peace and fasting. Now, maybe the Pope has never heard of the USC-UGA game, and tailgating, but surely the local persons realize that folks will be too busy praying for touchdowns and eating greasy meaty treats to participate. I mean, priorities!

    1. Brad Warthen

      I missed the call for prayer and fasting until J pointed it out to me tonight. I think that’s great, and entirely appropriate, whatever action this nation eventually takes. Prayerful contemplation and discernment are certainly called for.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I just keep flashing on the Auden poem, Musee des Beaux Arts, where life goes on in the background, blissfully ignorant of the boy whose wings are on fire, falling from the sky….

  4. Mark Stewart

    The way to peace is to enforce it. That’s what the Pope is doing. That is also what the President is proposing. Different realms require different methods…

    Action can be just as moral as prayers. Or also, of course, just as amoral.

  5. bud

    Maybe I missed it but I don’t see where the Pope spelled out exactly what should done. Perhaps it’s just understood and only those with the secret, Catholic decoder ring get it. As for me, I don’t think the air strikes will do much good but maybe, just maybe they will help a bit.

  6. Doug Ross

    Turn the other cheek?

    Seriously…there is no way to reconcile war with biblical teachings.

    It is ironic that both Obama and The Quakers have Nobel Peace Prizes.

  7. Pat

    For some reason I keep thinking of the quote, “and men cry Peace! Peace! But there is no peace.” That is actually a Biblical quote in origin. I’m also thinking of the commandment, Thou shalt not kill, which means do not murder or do not kill an innocent person.
    Everyone is making good points. The call to prayer might be the most powerful thing we can do.

  8. Brad Warthen

    Something I failed to focus on when I read the Noonan piece this morning, and even when I posted it here…

    Pope Francis wrote the letter saying those things to Putin, not, for instance, to Obama. Since Noonan had mentioned it in the context of discussing what THIS country should do, I read right past that.

    The Pope was telling the guy supporting Assad how important peace was. Which causes me to read it differently.

    So… Did the Pope send a similar letter to Obama, or Hollande?


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