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The flag of Ukraine (public domain)

Ukraine: What Ought to be Done?

As many Ukrainian scholars and intellectuals have opined, the Western media has allowed Russia and Putin to set the narrative for the invasion.

In October 2020, with the publication of Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis seemingly broke with a longstanding position within Catholic social teaching by rejecting just-war reasoning: “We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war.’ Never again war!” (§258). When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, marking a steep escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014, the Catholic pontiff faced a precarious decision. Would he condemn Russia’s unjustified aggression? Would he support Ukraine’s right to armed self-defense?

Since the invasion, Pope Francis has called for an end to the war but he has not condemned Russia’s actions, has urged Ukraine to embrace nonviolence even in defending themselves, and has intimated that Western encroachment on Russia’s borders through the expansion of NATO provoked the invasion. Catholic theologians and ethicists continue to debate the morality of just-war versus nonviolent peacemaking and politicians profess support for Ukraine but fear further angering Putin. Meanwhile, the invasion has triggered the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, with more than 6.8 million Ukrainians fleeing the country and a third of the population displaced.

As many Ukrainian scholars and intellectuals have opined, the Western media has allowed Russia and Putin to set the narrative for the invasion. Some have aimed their criticisms at Noam Chomsky, who in several interviews has suggested “that Ukrainians are fighting with Russians because the U.S. instigated them to do so” in an effort by the U.S. “to detach Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence.” Chomsky, in agreement with most military experts, recommends appeasing Putin as a means of averting nuclear war, to which the Ukrainians respond: “Since the Russian invasion, Ukraine lives in a constant nuclear threat, not just due to being a prime target for Russian nuclear missiles but also due to the Russian occupation of Ukrainian nuclear power plants….Arguably, any concessions to Russia will not reduce the probability of a nuclear war but lead to escalation. If Ukraine falls, Russia may attack other countries (Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Finland or Sweden) and can also use its nuclear blackmail to push the rest of Europe into submission.

Catholic moral theologians and other theological ethicists uniformly condemn Russia’s military aggression yet continue to debate the proper Christian response. This symposium presents the ongoing and evolving thought on the matter by several theologians and ethicists: David E. DeCosse, Director of Religious and Catholic Ethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University, Jackie Turvey Tait, tutor at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, and a research associate at Liverpool John Moores University, John Gonzalez, Director of Parish and Community Relations for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Brooklyn, Ramon Luzarraga, Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Martin’s University, Rubén Rosario Rodríguez, Clarence Louis and Helen Steber Professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University, and Gerald J. Beyer, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Villanova University.

Recognizing that much changes on the ground daily in Ukraine, and that despite an overwhelming technological and numerical advantage, Russian troops have been stymied by the much smaller and ill-equipped Ukrainian forces, these reflections provide moral reasoning about viable options for Ukraine and the West in the face of continued Russian aggression guided and informed by Christian teaching.

Symposium Essays

Justice, Self-Respect, and the Ukrainian Decision to Go to War

No doubt there are complex reasons of history and diplomacy behind such qualifications and hesitations. But it is accurate to say that they reflect the increasing Catholic skepticism about the moral justification of war at all. But the Ukrainian decision to fight presents an important challenge to that skepticism.

Ukraine: Separating Just Defence from Dangerous False Narratives

It should be uncontroversial that the Ukrainians have a right to defend their people and their land. However, some have argued that Pope Francis is spearheading a rejection of the just war tradition, replacing it with a thoroughgoing pacifism that would in principle deny this right to the Ukrainian defenders. As an analysis of the Pope’s position, I think this is mistaken.

The Seeds of World War III?

If we consider our own domestic troubles in the U.S., we will soon recognize that Americans, from both the right and the left, are tired of the age of American imperialism. This may be the one common ground issue that most of us have.

The Ethics of a Just, Protracted War

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has become a protracted war between Ukraine and Russia, with elements of a new Cold War where Ukraine’s western Allies are fighting Russia by proxy through the supply of weapons and other aid through the NATO alliance. The just war standard of “reasonable chance of success” is not part of the original theory devised by Saint Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas, but a later innovation made by Francisco Suárez to prevent wars from deteriorating into a long cycle of revenge by parties at war.

Blood Covered Hands – But Not in Ukraine

Paul J. Griffiths contends that the hands of every American taxpayer now drip with blood because the U.S. is supporting Ukraine’s war of self defense. American hands might be covered in the blood of innocents from Afghanistan to Somalia to Yemen, but there has been no transgression in Ukraine. In fact, from the perspective of Christian just war reasoning, it can be argued that the U.S. and Europe have not done enough.

Atrocities in the Heart of Europe Again: On the War in Ukraine

I am a Christian theologian who abhors war and believes that all other reasonable means should be exhausted before the use of lethal force is undertaken. At the same time, I am convinced that there are times – albeit rare – when the evil is so great that no measure other than force will prevent grave atrocities on a massive scale.