Thursday, April 21, 2011

Measure twice, post once ....

I must say I am shocked—shocked!—to see The Catholic Knight go off half-cocked over a story in Catholic Culture from March 28, which appears to report that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops backs the Obama Administration's adventurism in Libya. I'm not entirely sure, though, that I blame him, for the headline and lede misreport the situation:

US bishops: military intervention in Libya ‘appears to meet’ key just-war standard 

Military intervention in Libya, in the judgment of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “appears to meet” the just-cause criterion of Catholic teaching on just war. The USCCB, however, cautioned that it has “refrained from making definitive judgments” in light of “many prudential decisions beyond our expertise."

In fact, there are four criteria for a just war:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition (CCC §2309).
 The source of the story is a letter from Bp. Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on International Justice and Peace, to NSC advisor Thomas E. Donilon. In it, the bishop states that UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizing the intervention "appears to meet" the first criterion (in bold type); whether this is simply the judgment of the Committee or of the entire Conference +Hubbard doesn't specify.

However, the bishop's letter also has serious questions as to whether the coalition's operations fulfill the other criteria:

The just war tradition teaches that the use of force must have "serious prospects for success" and "must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated" (Catechism, #2309). Important questions include: How is the use of force protecting the civilian population of Libya? Is the force employed proportionate to the goal of protecting civilians? Is it producing evils graver than the evil it hopes to address? What are the implications of the use of force for the future welfare of the Libyan people and the stability of the region?
In addition, the use of force must be proportionate and discriminant. The justice of a cause does not lessen the moral responsibility to comply with the norms of civilian immunity and proportionality. We recognize serious efforts are being made to avoid directly targeting civilians. In fact, the just cause underlying the use of force is to protect civilians. This moral responsibility leads to continuing questions: Is force being used in ways that protect civilian lives? Are civilian casualties being avoided? Is the destruction of lives and property proportionate to the good being achieved in terms of saving civilian lives?
 And then he washes his hands of making a definitive judgment at this time: "Based on longstanding Church teaching and experience, we have offered moral guidance and asked key moral questions. As pastors and teachers, we have refrained from making definitive judgments because the situation on the ground remains complex and involves many prudential decisions beyond our expertise." [Has that consideration stopped them before? he asked, lips pursed.]

All in all, hardly a ringing endorsement from die-hard warhawks or Obama-worshipers. Nothing to see here, folks; we should just move along. However, Sir Knight rages:

The USCCB is playing politics here. Apparently, according to the USCCB, the unprovoked bombing of another country is an unjust war when a Republican is in the Whitehouse [sic], but when a Democrat is in the Whitehouse, it is likely a "just war" with good cause. GIVE ME A BREAK! How can I possibly take this ecclesiastical body seriously? How can anyone take it seriously?
 And, responding to a reader's comment that the USCCB would lead a break from Rome by nominal Catholics, Sir Knight responded, "... I think the emerging 'American Catholic Council' (or ACC) will likely become the vehicle of the American schism, and the USCCB will likely play an unofficial supportive role. The ACC will lead the charge, while the USCCB will likely cheer them on - unofficially of course."

This isn't the first post to over-react to a badly-written lede, and it probably won't be the last; I'll probably make the same mistake a few times in my own blogging career. But it took me less than ten minutes to track down the information needed for my response. Is that really too much to ask of any blogger?