Pope John Paul II took another step towards sainthood today. None of the media coverage of this event that I’ve seen has mentioned the vigorous, unequivocal stance he took against the current war in Iraq – he declared it immoral, that it did not meet the Church’s requirements for being a “just war,” and called it a defeat for humanity. Before the war, he dispatched a special envoy to Washington to urge President Bush not to attack Iraq. He took a similar stance against the first Iraq War, a fact that has gone as unreported in the media as his campaign against the current war. While still a cardinal, Pope Benedict also condemned the Iraq War; if he has changed his position since being elevated to the papacy (unlikely, as that would mean contradicting his immediate predecessor), I haven’t heard about it.
Since we’re discussing matters of faith, I guess this is as good a time as any to discuss the “chocolate Jesus” controversy. I’m with olvzl on this one – chocolate Jesus is the theological equivalent of a guy on the highway flipping you the bird after he cuts you off. If that’s the kind of thing that makes you reach for the Tec-9 you’ve got under the seat, you’d probably be better served by taking a moment to examine exactly why you’re driving around with a gun under your seat.
Predictably, the Catholic League’s William Donohue not only reached for his Tec-9, but emptied the entire freakin’ clip, declaring it one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever. Ever! Donohue’s been pretty vocal about a lot of things, especially foodstuffs, but strangely silent on the Iraq War, a war Catholic doctrine has deemed immoral. I take it back – he has spoken about the Iraq War, except that when he did he lied about the Pope’s position on the war.
Donohue’s attitude seems to be one shared by many in the American Catholic church. This is a subject that’s somewhat personal to me, since I was raised Catholic, and the majority of my family still practices the faith. But stories like this one make me believe there is an almost schizophrenic attitude in the Church when it comes to the war.
I graduated from the high school discussed in the article I link to above, Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York. It is a Catholic high school that prides itself on its rigorous program and high academic standards. To date, three recent alumni of the school have been killed in Iraq. The story describes how Chaminade’s demanding, competitive program and faith-based, value driven education made these young men uniquely suited to serve in the armed forces. Nearly 400 graduating seniors this year are entering service academies.
What I can’t understand is why this Catholic high school isn’t doing everything in its power to dissuade young men from entering into the armed forces where they will almost certainly have to serve in a war their own doctrine has found to be immoral. I’m not claiming that clerical intervention would have kept the young men who have died in Iraq from serving; young men by definition don’t do everything their priest tells them to do. They followed their conscience, which, in the end, is all any of us can do. Their communities are poorer for their loss.
If students are being counseled regarding the Church’s official position on the war, there is no evidence of it in the Newsday article, and the school always has been proud of its military ties. While I was there, there was a certain reverence for alumni who had served in the armed forces and a plaque in the main entryway memorialized those alumni – called Gold Star alumni – who died in battle while serving in the United States armed forces.
Perhaps the faculty believe in the war in Iraq; perhaps they are following their conscience in the same way as the young men who were killed. But here’s the tricky thing – as a representative of an organized faith your conscience is not entirely your own. You must counsel according to the parameters of your doctrine, if need be helping your parishioners navigate the subtleties of that doctrine. Otherwise, why have a doctrine? Why have a Church with a defined hierarchy?
As I said above, this silence on the Catholic Church’s official stance against the Iraq War isn’t limited to this one high school. High-profile Catholic media figures like William Donohue, Bill O'Reilly and Robert Novak certainly aren’t speaking out against the war, and powerful, Roman Catholic government leaders such as Supreme Court Justices Alito and Scalia are also mostly silent about the war. (I know Supreme Court justices don't make policy, but their words carry weight. And Anderson Cooper will take their call.) During the 2004 election, there was talk about denying communion to Roman Catholic presidential candidate John Kerry due to his position on abortion rights, but not over his vote in favor of the invasion of Iraq.
I haven’t attended a Catholic mass since my Dad’s funeral, but I’d wager that a lot more has been said from the pulpit regarding the “War on Christmas” than the war in Iraq. If I’m wrong about that, if your local priest is counseling his parishioners about the official Church position on the war, feel free to contact me and I’ll gladly post that information here.