Just war, teaching self-defense, getting past the don'ts & more


Justus George Lawler was much too charitable to George Weigel on the issue of traditional Catholic just-war teaching (“Phantom Heresies,” April 24). Under the heading of “Safeguarding Peace,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins the section on just war by stipulating that “the strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration.” The use of “strict” and “rigorous” is a warning about the self-serving ways in which Catholics have irresponsibly used just-war teaching to justify whatever war their particular nation-state happened to be waging.

The Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is a kind of gloss on the necessarily brief sections of the Catechism. Chapter 11, “The Promotion of Peace,” is particularly pointed in its negative criticism of preventive war: “Therefore, engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions.” George Weigel published—in First Things, January 2003—a defense of preventive war that stretched traditional just-war teaching into something neither rigorous nor strict (“Moral Clarity in a Time of War”). Weigel’s suggestions for modifying that teaching fit quite closely with what the Bush administration was planning to do in Iraq. Readers may remember that the Vatican dispatched an envoy to the White House to argue against a war that so clearly violated the church’s traditional understanding of just-war teaching-to no avail. One can only wonder whether the White House depended on Weigel’s writing to dismiss the arguments of Pope John Paul’s representative.

Richard D. Parry
Decatur, Ga.



If Christopher Duncan (“Pulling Punches,” April 24) had a daughter—and maybe he does—would he feel more or less conflicted about teaching her to fight than he does about teaching his son to fight? I see no conflict between learning to love and learning self-defense. Boys and girls need to learn both.

Charlotte Newman
Cleveland Heights, Ohio



Thank you for running Lisa Fullam’s “Thou Shalt” (April 24). It’s rare enough to find a grown-up discussion of sex anywhere, but especially in a Catholic publication. Ms. Fullam’s approach, which goes beyond the customary “don’ts,” is refreshing. One could hope that her article might lead to an open dialogue concerning a positive and realistic sexual ethic. The Vatican and the bishops might not approve, but many Catholics would, I think, be grateful.

James H. Duffy
New York, N.Y.



I am very grateful for Fr. John F. Baldovin’s wonderful review of my book, The Eucharist and Ecumenism (“Liturgy & Reunion,” March 27). I appreciate the scholarly, thoughtful, and critical attention he paid to my ecumenical proposals, and I’m pleased he thinks some of them might do some good.

I was sorry to read, however, that on Eucharistic sacrifice (a “hot topic,” says Baldovin), I didn’t manage even to come close. If I may, let me indicate what I hoped to accomplish. I wasn’t trying to be avant-garde. I was trying to get Protestants on board without alienating Catholics and the Orthodox (and of course, the former are not yet on board). I wanted to set forth a view that (1) could be embraced by ecumenical Protestants, and (2) would not be church dividing. I aimed for convergence rather than consensus.

After reading Baldovin’s strictures, I went back to John Paul II’s definitive encyclical on the topic, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), which has a great deal to say about our hot topic. I must leave it to others to decide, but as far as I can see, no Protestant who accepted what I propose in my book would find anything in that encyclical’s treatment of Eucharistic sacrifice that could not be interpreted in accord with the Reformation.

George Hunsinger
Princeton, N.J.



Rita Ferrone’s review of John F. Baldovin’s book Reforming the Liturgy (“Righting the Rites,” April 24) leaves out one topic that affects all others—“culture.”

The Georgia county in which I live—Cobb—is about as Catholic as any in the state. Worship styles in its seven parishes range from Latin Mass to “LifeTeen.” Some parishes are made up of only English speakers. Two-thirds of another parish speak Spanish. Then there is the trinlingual parish, where you can hear English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Even within a single parish, not all Masses have the same look and feel. If one expands one’s view to the whole metro Atlanta area, one also sees African-American and Vietnamese parishes. Is any one of these parishes more “Catholic” than the others? If so, which one, and why? I don’t understand the concept of the way forward when there are so many ways today. Tell most Catholics that the translation of pro multis is changing and their eyes will glaze over. Tell them that clapping is either forbidden or required and you will get an emotional response.

Richard Kuebbing
Kennesaw, Ga.



William Pfaff’s April 24 column (“Consumed by Zeal”) arrived at the right conclusion in condemning “mass discourtesies and denigration of public officials” and in supporting the decision of the University of Notre Dame to invite President Barack Obama to be its commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree. As a former Republican officeholder who did not support Obama, I nevertheless believe that the president of the United States deserves respect in an age of escalating political partisanship and single-issue agendas.

But I find it perplexing that, as a student at Notre Dame, Pfaff was taught to oppose freedom of religion. During my eighteen years of Catholic education (under the Sisters of the Holy Cross, the Christian Brothers, and the Jesuits), my experience was just the opposite. The Catholic Church in which I was reared stood out as a beacon for the Americanization of generations of immigrants. The U.S. Constitution was the foundation of this Americanization, and the First Amendment was paramount. The freedom of religion that the United States offered was, for Catholics and Protestants alike, a primary motivation to immigrate and build a new life here.

Finally, as a graduate of Georgetown University, I would like to take issue with Pfaff’s description of Notre Dame as the “country’s most eminent Roman Catholic university.” Incidentally, Georgetown has already hosted President Obama, where he delivered a major policy address. He was warmly welcomed by the entire Hoya community.

Vincent F. Callahan Jr.
Alexandria, Va.

[William Pfaff replies: Letters, June 19, 2009.]



Rita Ferrone’s perceptive review of John F. Baldovin’s Reforming the Liturgy contains a puzzling sentence, in which she refers to a recommendation that priests be “forbidden to say anything ad libidem, except during the homily, announcements, and prayer of the faithful.” Ad libidem? Maybe libidem is meant to be a shortened version of libidinem, accusative of libido? What the context suggests, I fear, is the humdrum ad libitum.

Julian Irias
Davis, Calif.



The phrase ad libidem was an editing error—a bit of ad libitum Latin.

Published in the 2009-05-22 issue: 

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