Saturday, June 22, 2013

Can You be a Catholic Pacifist?

The short answer is yes.  Yes, you can be.  There are lots of Catholic pacifists.  Dorothy Day comes to mind.  I've had a lot of people get upset with me over the issue of pacifism and Catholicism because they simply don't know what pacifism means.  That and they think I'm a conservative, which I've said numerous times that I'm not.  I'm a moderate with conservative leanings whose married to a moderate with apathetic leanings (he's not into politics).  I'm a registered Republican in large part because that's the party I most identify with.  My husband is a registered independent.  But again, not a conservative.

Okay, you mentioned people don't understand pacifism.  So what is it?

Pacifism is non-violence.  It means you try and live your life in non-violent ways.  I don't spank my children for instance.  But that doesn't mean pacifists are push overs either.  Martin Luther King Jr was a pacifist (and a Republican).  He used protests, marches, and boycotts as a means to achieve a peaceful resolution.  Pacifism just simply means you find other ways other than taking up of arms to deal with conflict. 

Not all pacifist believe in what's called Total Pacifism, meaning you believe that there is never a reason to use violence.  The other is, what's been coined, selective pacifism.  This is reserving violence for specific situations as a last resort.  I think of police dealing with riots.  First they set up a barrier and ask people to leave.  Then they may use water or tear gas to break up the crowd.  And finally they may end up arresting people.  It's the same.  You only used measured violence after all options are exhasted.  Catholicism is on par with this time of pacifism if you read the Catechism and Just War Theory. 

Pacifism should be thought of in two ways: personal (how you live your life day to day) and global (how you think of social justice issues like war and refugees).  It starts with yourself and then radiates from there. 

What are you?

Good question.  For myself personally, I believe to be a total pacifist is a special charism.  It's like wearing a headcovering to Mass.  Some women are called to it and others are not.  I'm a total pacifist.  This is because it's an extention of my pro-life ethic.  I don't believe that any one person's life is more valuable than another.  In other words, my life is not more valuable to God than my agressor's.  Therefore I can't in good conscious use violence even as a means to protect myself.  It's a tough cross to bear.  People ask others "do you want to be a saint" because that's what we are all called to be.  But very rarely are people asking "are you called to be a martyr."  I'm one of the few who believes that they are called to be a martyr.  If I die as one, that to me would be a blessing.  St. Terese also felt called to be a martyr although she never died a martyr's death.

Didn't you say you couldn't support the military?

Yes, but that's something I'm still working through.  I've softened a bit over time as I understand now that it's hard to ask people to be martyrs even for the Faith.  I don't support the US military because I feel that it's aggressive.  Canada, for example, did not go to Iraq for the same reasons I did not support the US military's insertion.  I also don't support a person's decision to act as an agressor.  We train military personel to view "the enemy" as being sub-human.  And then we get upset when Abu Ghraib happened.  If I had to do it over, I think we should train the military like we train our militia (the National Guard) who act more as peace keepers and support the police.  I also support people who enter the military on non-combatant, consciencious objector status.  The military doesn't typically use these people much anymore.  These people are trained in supportive roles such as medics.  My brother and my cousins did not enter as COs (consciencious objectors) and entered in active military branches (army, air force, and marines).  So no I didn't/do not support that decision.  My brother knows that.

You don't support your brother?

Yes and no.  Part of being a pacifist is doing what you do for love of people.  I don't support my brother's decision anymore than I support someone who decides to co-habitate before marriage.  I frown upon it and I let them know my objections and why, but I don't treat them differently than anyone else.  It doesn't mean I hate my brother, which is what I think my cousin thought.  But I can't speak for her.

I would support his decision to work with refugees or to do side-walk counseling at abortion clinics.  I don't support him shooting people or learning how to.  There are other means.

You say that Catholicism supports pacifism?  How so?

CCC 2306- Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity,Thos provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies.  They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death.

CCC 2308- All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.  However, "as long as the danger of war persits and there is no international authority with the necessary compentence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, one all peace efforts have failed."

Pope JPII addressing the Iraq War- "War is never just another means for settling differences between nations."

Pope Benedict XVI on World Day of Peace 2006- "In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace require that all-whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear  arms, or those planning to acquire them- agree to change their course by clear and firm decision and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament.  The resources which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable of benefiting all their people, especially the poor."

Matthew 5:9- Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Emphasis mine.

If Catholicism did not support pacifists, why then does the CCC refer to us?  Just a thought.

Myths about Pacifists?

Well some own guns for sport like hunting.  We also are very big into social justice particularly for the more vunerable like the unborn or poor.  As I said, we don't sit back and do nothing.  You will find pacifists pray frequently at abortion clinics and hold protests.  And, I'll repeat myself, some pacifists believe that some violence (even personal violence) is justifiable in certain extreme situations.


Sure, there's the Catholic Workers Movement started by Dorothy Day.  And the international group Pax Christi, which I've linked the US page.  The CWM mostly talks about Dorothy Day's writings, but the Pax Christi has good info pages.  here's a really good flyer from PC talking about consciencous objector status and the Bishops affirming it as a right and ligitamate Catholic belief.  The international page should point my international readers to their local independent groups. 


  1. I thought this post was really interesting, and I hope you don't mind if I ask you a few questions about it. (I don't know where I stand on these issues, so rest assured I am not trying to subtly influence you to my side or lead you into a trap when you answer!)

    When you talk about total pacifism being a special charism that some people are called you, I interpret that as you saying that if other people use violence it's not necessarily wrong. Am I understanding that correctly? It would be more like St. Francis's total poverty--laudable for him, but it's not a sin that the rest of us own clothes.

    This way of thinking about pacifism is totally foreign to me and I'm interested to hear more about it. My moral theology professor would always talk about it in terms of ends and means--there are some means that cannot be ordered to some ends. For example, killing innocent people does not bring about justice, ever. So the question then is whether any kind of killing can be ordered to justice. A pacifist would say no, and depending on the type of pacifist they might say any violence cannot be ordered to justice. But these would then be universal norms, rather than what one person would be called to do.

    Assuming I have interpreted you correctly, that you believe it would be wrong for you to perform a violent act but not necessarily for someone else to, would you find it problematic if someone else performed a violent act to protect you?

    1. I think your questions are great. I think they are worthy of a short follow up post so ill have to answer them later. Maybe today or tomorrow when i have a bit of time. Thanks for your patience.


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!