Pope says it’s OK to arm Ukrainians
Remarks of Pope Francis that there is nothing morally wrong in supplying arms to Ukrainians to defend themselves against aggressors were certainly not made ex-cathedra, or “from the chair” of St. Peter, and so must have only persuasive effects on whoever disagrees.
The Pontiff gave his opinion while seated, with a bad knee, on a jetplane flying the papal party from Kazakhstan back to Rome on Thursday. He was discussing with the press on board the war in Ukraine, which Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
The war hung in the background of the global congress of religious heads that the 85-year-old Pontiff attended Sept. 13-15 in Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights verified 5,827 civilian deaths in the war as of Sept. 11.
As Francis was talking with the press, meeting in Uzbekistan below them were the world’s top communist leaders – China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin – vowing to firm up relations and advance their common interests.
During the 45-minute presscon of the Pope, a reporter asked if it was morally right for countries to send weapons to help Ukraine. That led to Francis’ discussing the moral implications of giving victims of aggression weapons for self-defense.
Catholics are taught in catechism that the goodness of a moral act is assessed based on three conditions: object (and its goodness), intention (or end as expressed by Saint Thomas Aquinas), and circumstances. For a moral act to be considered good, all three conditions must be met.
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News reports that we’ve read about the in-flight discussion did not mention the United States sending weapons to Ukraine but we assumed that that was the context of the media questions and the Pope’s answers.
The US defense department said on Sept. 9 on its website: “Following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the US embarked on a long-term commitment to provide Ukraine with the tools and equipment it needs to defend its sovereignty. Since that time, more than $14.5 billion in assistance has been committed to Ukraine.
“Some of the assistance provided has been new and purchased on contract from defense industry manufacturers as a part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. But much of the equipment, some $12.5 billion worth, has been provided as part of presidential drawdown authority.
“That means things such as Javelin and Stinger missiles, HIMARS rocket launcher systems, and Switchblade unmanned aerial systems, for instance, have been pulled directly from existing US military inventory to be sent overseas.”
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Francis, the only Jesuit to become Pope, said that arming victims of aggression can be morally acceptable under certain conditions. He explained the Roman Catholic Church’s “Just War” principles which allow the proportional use of weapons for self-defense against an aggressor.
“Self-defense is not only licit but also an expression of love for the homeland,” he said. “Someone who does not defend oneself, who does not defend something, does not love it. Those who defend (something) love it.”
When is it moral or immoral to supply weapons to another country? He explained: “It can be immoral if the intention is provoking more war, or to sell arms or dump arms that (a country) no longer needs. The motivation is what in large part qualifies the morality of this action.”
The Pope was asked whether Ukraine should negotiate with the invader and if Ukraine should draw a “red line” depending on Russian activities, after which it could refuse to negotiate.
“It is always difficult to understand dialogue with countries that have started a war… it is difficult but it should not be discarded,” he said.
“I would not exclude dialogue with any power that is at war, even if it is with the aggressor… Sometimes you have to carry out dialogue like this. It smells but it must be done,” he said.
The Pope, who was born in Argentina, used the Italian word “puzza” (smell or stink), equivalent to the English “holding your nose” to describe doing something one would prefer not to do.
“It (dialogue) is always a step forward, with an outstretched hand, always. Because otherwise, we close the only reasonable door to peace,” the Pope said.
“Sometimes it (the aggressor) does not accept dialogue. What a pity. But dialogue should always be carried out, or at least offered. And this does good to those who offer it,” he said.
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In Samarkand, a city in Uzbekistan that was on the ancient Silk Road trade route linking China to the Mediterranean, the statement issued after the XI-Putin summit of Sept. 15 said in part:
“President Xi emphasized that China will work with Russia to extend strong mutual support on issues concerning each other’s core interests, and deepen practical cooperation in trade, agriculture, connectivity, and other areas. The two sides need to enhance coordination and cooperation under multilateral frameworks xxx to promote solidarity and mutual trust among the parties, expand cooperation, and safeguard the security interests of the region.
“xxx Both Russia and China stand for a more equitable and reasonable international order. The Russian side is firmly committed to the one-China principle and condemns the provocative moves by individual countries on issues concerning China’s core interests.
“Russia will work with China to promote continued, deeper cooperation among the (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) member states based on the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, so as to build an authoritative platform for upholding regional security and stability.
“President Xi appreciated Russia’s adherence to the one-China principle, stressing that Taiwan is part of China, the Chinese side firmly opposes the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces and external interference, and no country is entitled to act as a judge on the Taiwan question.”