Vatican to host first-ever conference to reevaluate just war theory, justifications for violence

Rome – 

The Vatican will be hosting a first of its kind conference next week to reexamine the Catholic church’s long-held teachings on just war theory, bringing some 80 experts engaged in global nonviolent struggles to Rome with the aim of developing a new moral framework that rejects ethical justifications for war.Participants say the conference — to be cohosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the global Catholic peace network Pax Christi International April 11-13 — may recommend displacing the centuries-old just war theory as the main Catholic response to violence.They also express hope that Pope Francis might take up their conversations by deciding to focus his next encyclical letter, the highest form of teaching for a pontiff, on issues of Catholic peacemaking.

Terrence Rynne, a U.S. theologian who will be attending the event, said he considers it “phenomenally important.”

“Coming out of it, Pope Francis might see his way clear to articulate a fresh vision of peacemaking to the church,” said Rynne, who helped found Marquette University’s Center for Peacemaking. “That would be wonderful.

Just war theory is a tradition that uses a series of criteria to evaluate whether use of violence can be considered morally justifiable. First referred to by fourth century bishop St. Augustine of Hippo, it was later articulated in depth by 13th century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas and is today outlined by four conditions in the formal Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A number of theologians have criticized continued use of the theory in modern times, due to the powerful capabilities of modern weapons and evidence of the effectiveness of nonviolent campaigns in response to unjust aggression.

The Catechism currently outlines as one criteria for moral justification of war that “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated” and notes that “the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”

Conference organizers say in a note to participants about the April event that just war teaching “can no longer claim center stage as the Christian approach to war and peace.”

“After more than 1,500 years and repeated use of the just war criteria to sanction war rather than to prevent war, the Catholic Church, like many other Christian communities, is rereading the text of Jesus’ life and re-appropriating the Christian vocation of pro-active peacemaking,” they state.

“Emphasizing the need to work for a just peace, the Church is moving away from the acceptability of calling war ‘just,'” they continue. “While clear ethical criteria are necessary for addressing egregious attacks or threats in a violent world, moral theologians and ethicists should no longer refer to such criteria as the ‘just war theory,’ because that language undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacity for nonviolent conflict.”

As part of their goals for the conference, organizers state they seek a “new articulation of Catholic teaching on war and peace, including explicit rejection of ‘just war’ language.”

They state that they want “an alternative ethical framework for engaging acute conflict and atrocities by developing the themes and practices of nonviolent conflict transformation and just peace.”

April’s conference will be the first to be cohosted by the Vatican’s pontifical council and Pax Christi, an international Catholic coalition akin to Amnesty International that maintains separate national groups in many countries.

Started in 1945 by a French laywoman and a French bishop in the aftermath of the Second World War, Pax Christi has long sought to address the root causes of conflict and advocate for nonviolent solutions.

The conference is being organized around four sessions allowing participants to dialogue and share experiences with one another. The only scheduled talk at the event is to be given by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the pontifical council.

The four sessions are given the themes: Experiences of Nonviolence, Jesus’ Way of Nonviolence, Nonviolence and Just Peace, and Moving Beyond Unending War.

Each of the sessions is being led by experts in the separate topic areas, including: Rose Marie Berger, an editor at Sojourners magazine and social justice activist; Fr. John Dear, a former Jesuit known internationally for his writings and civil disobedience actions; Maria Stephan, a senior policy fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace; and Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theologian at Boston College.

Rynne said that the participants are hoping their discussions will allow them to draft some sort of document summarizing their sessions. The organizers’ note to participants says they hope to create an “action plan for promotion of Catholic teaching on war and peace, violence and nonviolence.”

Rynne said that participants are coming from many places, including: Chile, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Palestine and Burundi.

“It’s a dream that I’ve had for a long time that the church would embrace peacemaking as its central manta, and not have the just war theory be settled teaching the way it has been for so many centuries,” said the theologian.

“If people understood they had this powerful method of non-violent action that has been demonstrably proven again and again, we would begin to move away” from just war theory, he said.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

Pax Christi Massachusetts 2016 Retreat

Facing Violence Unafraid:

Building Jesus’ Nonviolent Alternatives

Retreat Leaders: Sr. Jane Morrissey and Philip Harak

Saturday, April 9, at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish

151 Mendon St, Upton, MA 01568

Registration begins at 8:30 – Program 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

View The Flyer Here

Members at the State House

Pax Christi members (left to right) Irene Desharmais, Pat Ferrone, and Fr. Rocco Puopolo at the Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the statehouse.  The Stations of the Cross at the Statehouse is an annual event initiated by Agape and co-sponsored by Pax Christi MA, Sisters of St. Anne and the House of Peace.

Salima Abbas

Read the poem here.

War Toys XMas

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday—It must be the season of gift-giving again! And why not? What can be nicer than giving gifts to show people we care about and appreciate them? And what can be more gratifying than seeing joy and excitement when the recipient is a child?

But what to give? This is a season for celebrating love whether it is Love born in a manger on Christmas day; or the Love of God providing for an oppressed people at Chanukkah; or the Love of family, community, and culture acclaimed during Kwanzaa. Love is at the heart of all faiths and traditions. And it is love that prompts us to give gifts, especially to the children in our lives.

So let us be very thoughtful about the gifts we choose. Our children live in a society plagued by war, terrorism, street crime, bullying, and many other kinds of violence. They deserve much better from us. They deserve to play in ways that allow them to have fun free of conflict. Let the things you give nurture love, not fear or prejudice.

Consider toys that:

  • Can be used in many ways
  • Allow children to be in charge of the play
  • Appeal to children at more than one age or level of development
  • Are not linked to video games, computers, TV, or movies,
  • Can be used with other toys for new and more complex play
  • Will stand the test of time as children develop new interests and skills
  • Promote respectful, non-stereotyped, nonviolent interactions among children
  • Help children develop skills important for further learning and a sense of mastery
  • Can be used alone or with others Can be enjoyed by boys and girls


  • Toys for constructing, like building blocks and molding clay
  • Toys that inspire creative arts, like craft supplies and musical instruments
  • Toys that promote movement, like bikes, wagons, and sports equipment
  • Toys that promote dramatic play, like costumes and props, puppets and magic sets
  • Toys that foster cooperation and teamwork, like dolls and puzzles and some board games
  • Toys that enhance the imagination, new ideas, and problem solving, like science and nature kits
  • Toys that respect the environment, that can be reused and recycled And don’t forget books, magazine subscriptions, tickets to a show or movie, Teddy Bears, and you.
  • There’s nothing better than YOUR time!

Thanks to for the information presented in this flier. Visit their website, as well as, and for more ideas about gifts that promote the positive values we want for our children and have the extra benefit of being sweatshop-free and non-toxic.

Pax Christi MA and St. Susanna Peace and Justice endorse this effort.

War Toys Xmas

Peace Pages

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2015 Annual Assembly

PCMA 2015 Assembly Flyer Sister Helen, the author of the autobiographical book Dead ManWalking and of The Death of Innocents, says: “The death penalty is one of the great moral issues facing our country, yet most people rarely think about it and very few of us take the time to delve deeply enough into this issue to be able to make an informed decision.”

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