The Catholic Church may teach that some wars can be justified — but Jesus never did, according to 1992 Nobel Prize nominee Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy.
“Why do we teach Christians to do what Jesus never taught?” Father McCarthy asked rhetorically during a two-day retreat last November at St. Bridget’s Church in Rochester. “In fact, it’s the opposite of what he taught.”
That absolute commitment to nonviolence is the hallmark of Father McCarthy’s career, which includes being a founding member of Pax Christi-USA, the Catholic peace group. A priest of the Byzantine Catholic Church and currently acting rector of St. Gregory the Theologian Byzantine Melkite Catholic Seminary in Roslindale, Mass., Father McCarthy will be the leader for a two-night Lenten Mission at St. John Fisher College, 3690 East Ave., Pittsford.
Father McCarthy will lead reflections on the following topics: “Repentance and the New Commandment” and “The Nonviolent Cross — Abortion, Capital Punishment, and War.”
The mission will take place on Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Coleman Chapel in Murphy Hall. The event is open to the public.
Father McCarthy, formerly a lawyer and university educator, is the founder of The Program for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution at the University of Notre Dame. For more than 35 years, he has directed educational programs and conducted spiritual retreats throughout the world on the issue of the relationship of faith and violence.
Father McCarthy has been a strident critic of the church’s embrace of the just-war theory, which he believes violates Jesus’ command to love our enemies as our neighbors. The just-war theory also betrays a distrust in the mercy of God, he added, noting that true security can only be found in loving the neighbor, even if the neighbor hates you. In his talk at St. Bridget’s, Father McCarthy noted that Jesus walked what he talked. For example, when Jesus was taken in the Garden of Gethsemane, he could have escaped in the confusion that followed Peter’s slicing off of the ear of one of the guards.
“(Jesus’) choice was to be merciful and die, or be merciless and escape,” Father McCarthy said. “Healing the enemy is the last physically free act that he does.”
In a follow-up interview, Father McCarthy noted that the Catholic Church centuries ago abandoned its commitment to such absolute nonviolence, and has even discredited the just-war theory it came to embrace by its unwillingness to unequivocally condemn modern wars.
Political leaders also fail to follow the just-war theory’s tenets, he said. For example, he noted that the theory calls upon political leaders to exhaust all efforts to stop a war before it starts, something he believed the U.S. government did not do before launching its invasion of Iraq.
He added that the just-war theory presumes against the slaughter of innocents, but the killing of civilians is now considered a routine part of modern warfare. Whereas civilians were once a minority of the dead caused by war, they are now the majority of most wars, he noted. Civilians have been killed by the thousands by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, and the government used the specter of Osama bin Laden to justify both invasions.
“We’ve ravaged two countries,” Father McCarthy said, “and we’ve done it on the basis that we suspect one man responsible for 9-11.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For information, contact St. John Fisher College’s office of campus ministry at 585/385-8368 or Deacon Thomas Jewell at 585/385-8325.