With the so-called “special military operation,” as Putin calls the bloody conflict he provoked in Ukraine (which has so far produced more than 200,000 dead and wounded on each side and some 18,000 civilian casualties), the frightening specter of war, which we thought had been eradicated forever from our continent, suddenly returned to the heart of Europe. In fact, it had never altogether disappeared. One need only think of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia at the end of the 20th century, particularly in Kosovo. Thus in Catholic circles and beyond we see the return of a classic theme of so-called “social morality,” that of the permissibility or otherwise of war, that is, war in order to resolve conflicts between states. This question, only apparently abstract, is linked to other very sensitive issues, such as rearmament and the use of nuclear weapons (even of the less destructive variety), which unfortunately we are tragically reliving.
Pope Francis, in a book published at the end of 2022 Vi chiedo in nome di Dio (‘I ask you in the name of God’) addresses the issue of war, as he has done in many speeches during his decade long pontificate, in a direct way, making reference to the magisterium of his predecessors. The popes in the last century, Francis recalls, have spared no words in condemning war, defining it as “a scourge” (Pius XII), or as “a useless slaughter” by which everything can be lost, and which ultimately “is always a defeat for humanity” (Benedict XV). It is a barbarity that “never” solves problems or conflicts between states (Paul VI). Today, the pope writes: “while I ask in the name of God for an end to the cruel madness of war, I also consider its persistence among us as the true failure of politics.”