What does The Catholic Peace Fellowship do?
Our work has three parts. First, we educate members of the Church about Catholic teachings on war and peace. Second, we work with soldiers, helping those who call us to get out of the military, often as conscientious objectors. Finally, we publish a journal, The Sign of Peace, that addresses our situation today as followers of Jesus in a country at war.
Is CPF pacifist?
We at CPF prefer to say that our view is Christian, taking seriously what Jesus says in the Gospel. To be a "pacifist," you don't even have to believe in God. But it is precisely because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God that we reject the use of violence. The clearest part of Jesus' social message in the Gospel is that He is nonviolent and teaches us how to love both friends and enemies. Period. Many today try to say, "Well, maybe Jesus didn't quite understand the world," or, "Maybe we have to turn to military or political leaders in situations of crisis." We say that it is precisely to Jesus that we should turn now. And thus all of us--soldiers, teachers, pastors, parents--might ask in this confusing world: to whose voice do we listen? Listening to Jesus' command to "put away the sword" does not so much make us pacifists as it makes us, well, Christians. This is not to say that those who follow the just war tradition are not Christians. However, even Christians who subscribe to the just war theory (among them many CPFers) can still come to the conclusion that, when the just war theory is rigorously applied, no modern war can be justified.
But what about all the Catholics who support war?
We prefer to follow the voice of the popes. John Paul II has said "Never again war!" and "Today the scale and the horror of modern warfare—whether nuclear or not—makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations."
The Church has a long peace tradition. In the first centuries, in fact, Christians would have nothing to do with war. Over the centuries, however, another tradition of "just war" developed, which taught Christians to apply strict requirements before going to war and rules for conduct within war. Unfortunately, most Christians do not seriously follow either of these traditions today. Many Christians are quite comfortable with war. It is the hope of CPF that more Catholics will begin to take our history and tradition of peace more seriously, and that, in doing so, take Jesus and His teaching more seriously.
What about supporting the troops?
By taking phone calls on the GI Rights Hotline--a number soldiers call when they want helping in leaving the military or need help protecting their and their families' rights--we are supporting soldiers who often have seen firsthand the brutality of war. We are skeptical that bumper stickers and ribbons can offer true support.
Consider the soldiers with whom we have worked. They have seen terrible things. Many of them have killed persons that they later realized had been innocent noncombatants. Will yellow ribbons help these soldiers get to sleep each night? Who will be their support for the rest of their lives as they try to cope with the horrors of war? While this nation may move on to the next crisis or conflict, hundreds of thousands of soldiers will be left to pick up the pieces of war's ugliness. And thus, when a soldier comes to us for help, whether for help in objecting to participation in war or exercising rights they're entitled to under regulation, we will support them.
Aren't there Catholic chaplains to take care of these needs for Catholic soldiers?
Sadly, the answer to this question is often no. We need to remember that chaplains work for the military. They are officers who are sworn to the military mission. Chaplains are forbidden to be conscientious objectors. Moreover, our experience with soldiers has been that when they go to their chaplains with questions of conscientious objection, they are often dismissed and are told to follow orders. While we still encourage soldiers to talk with their chaplains, we also urge them to email us (staff (at) catholicpeacefellowship (dot) org) or call us (574-232-2295 or 877-447-4487) so that they can learn about the option of conscientious objection, and how it is a time-honored tradition in the Church. In fact, at the Second Vatican Council, when all the bishops convened with the pope to form the highest teaching authority possible in the Church, they applaud those conscientious obejctors who resist unjust orders.
Can soldiers who are already in the military become conscientious objectors?
Yes, they can. Conscientious Objectors receive an honorable discharge from the military. To receive conscientious objection status, a soldier must ask his/her commanding officer for a conscientious objector application. S/he will need to show that s/he has had a change of heart since joining the military and now cannot participate in war in any form. If a soldier is a selective conscientious objector--that is, s/he is opposed to participating in a particular war--the military will deny the application.
Of course, because of the Just War tradition, the Catholic Church strongly supports soldiers who object to a particular war that they see as unjust--as many have done in this Iraq war. However, the U.S. military does not recognize this as a legal act, and the Supreme Court has upheld the military's denial of selective conscientious objection.
For us at CPF, we see this as one more reason why Catholics should not enter the military, for, once they enter, soldiers must give blind obedience to their commanders. For Catholics, full obedience is owed to God alone, and this obedience is not blind. As the Apostles once concluded, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5).
If you have a question you would like us to answer, please email us at staff (at) catholicpeacefellowship (dot) org. We may add it to the FAQs!