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Posted January 13, 2004

Book: Catholic Perspectives on Peace and War
Authors: Thomas J. Massaro, S.J., and Thomas A. Shannon
A Sheed and Ward Book, New York, pp.155

Excerpt from Jacket:

This book offers a thorough and accessible analysis of Catholic teaching on war and warmaking from its earliest stages to the present. Moral theologians Thomas J. Massaro and Thomas A. Shannon begin with a survey of the teachings on war in various religions and denominations. They then trace the development of just war theory and application; review the perspectives of several Catholic bishops; comment on the bishops’ pastoral letter; The Challenge of Peace: address contemporary developments in light of 9/11 and the United States’ war with Iraq; and conclude with theological reflections. Complete with recommended readings, Catholic Perspectives on Peace and War offers an informative and thoughtful moral analysis that helps readers navigate the rapidly changing terrain of war, warmaking, and peace initiative.

Excerpt from Book:

The moral paradox of deterrence is that its purpose is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, but it does so by an expressed threat to attack the civilian population of one’s adversary. Such a threat runs directly counter t the central moral affirmation of the Christian teaching on war: that innocent lives are not open to direct attack. The complexity of that moral in the statement on deterrence of the American bishops in 1976: With respect to nuclear weapons, at least those with massive destructive capability, the first imperative is to prevent their use. As possessors of a vast nuclear arsenal, we must also be aware that not only is it wrong to attack civilian population but it is also wrong to threaten to attack them as part of a strategy of deterrence. We urge the continued development and implementation of policies which seek to bring these weapons more securely under control, progressively reduce their presence in the world, and ultimately remove them entirely.

The more judgment of his statement is that not only the use of nuclear weapons is wrong but so is the declared intent to use them in our deterrence policy. This explains the Catholic dissatisfaction with nuclear deterrence and the urgency of the Catholic demand that the nuclear arms race be reversed. It is of the utmost importance that negotiations proceed to meaningful and continued reductions in nuclear stockpiles, and eventually to the phasing out altogether of nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction.

As long as there is hope of this occurring, Catholic moral teaching is willing, while negotiations proceed, to tolerate the possession of nuclear weapons for deterrence as the lesser of two evils. If that hope were to disappear, the moral attitude of the Catholic Church would almost certainly have to shift to one of uncompromising condemnation of both use and possession of such weapons.

Table of Contents:


1. The development of the just war tradition

2. Survey of Roman Catholic teachings on war and peace

3. American theological reflections on war and peace

4. Contemporary developments: The state of the question

5. Recent U.S. foreign policy: political and ethical issues

6. Recent Christian approaches to peacemaking

7. Peace and war: the state of the question