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Cardinal Turkson: 'We do not stop war by starting another war'

Last edited 21st September 2016

Cardinal Turkson: 'We do not stop war by starting another war'

Pope Francis is giving "very strong recognition" to a landmark conference held at the Vatican last spring that called on the global Catholic church to reject its long-held teachings on just war theory, Cardinal Peter Turkson has said.Turkson, the head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the pontiff's decision to focus his message for World Peace Day in 2017 on nonviolent strategies to prevent and stop global violence was partly caused by the discussions at the conference. "He's adopted this topic … as the message of peace for next year," said Turkson, referring to Francis.

"We are giving a very strong recognition to the conference and to the things that were discussed and said there." The cardinal was speaking in an NCR interview Monday in response to a question about the April event, which was co-hosted by his council and the Catholic peace group Pax Christi International. Turkson said the participants of the conference asked the church to re-examine the concept of just war, first enunciated by fourth-century bishop St. Augustine, and "slightly begin to move away from that."

He said that while just war teachings were first developed to make wars difficult or impossible to justify, they are now used more as conditions that allow violence to be used. "My understanding is that it was initially meant to make it difficult to wage war because you needed to justify it," said the cardinal. "This now has been interpreted these days as a war is just when it is exercised in self-defense … or to put off an aggressor or to protect innocent people." Turkson continued: "In that case, Pope Francis would say: 'You don't stop an aggression by being an aggressor. You don't stop a conflict by inciting another conflict. You don't stop a war by starting another war.'" "It doesn't stop," said the cardinal. "We've seen it all around us. Trying to stop the aggressor in Iraq has not stopped war.

Trying to stop the aggressor in Libya has not stopped war. It's not stopped the war in any place. We do not stop war by starting another war." Turkson said the participants at the conference promoted "another thinking:" Gospel nonviolence, or "nonviolence as Jesus was nonviolent." "People think that this is Utopian, but Jesus was that," said the cardinal, calling Jesus' instruction to his disciples to turn the other cheek if someone were to strike them as an example of "non-aggression" in response to violence.

"From the point of view of us Christians, and talking as Christians, our master also taught us a way of dealing with violence," said Turkson. "Is it worth following what our master taught us? What he taught us is this nonviolence." The Vatican conference on just war theory was held April 11-13 and brought some 80 experts engaged in nonviolent struggles to Rome to discuss developing a new moral framework rejecting ethical justifications for war. At the end of the event the participants launched an appeal, bluntly stating: "There is no 'just war.'" The Vatican announced in August that Francis' World Peace Day message for 2017, which will be officially promulgated on the first day of the year, will be given the title "Non-Violence: A Style of Politics for Peace." Turkson, who spoke about the April event in the context of a 40-minute interview at his council's office in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood, also said that international responses to unjust aggression by nation-states or other actors do not always need to involve violence. "There are several diplomatic means we can use to stop aggression," said the cardinal.

"If nothing else at all, stop that with which people cause the aggression. Why don't you talk about curtailing arms trafficking? The really big instruments of war come from factories and industries which produce weapons and some of these weapons are now in these theatres of war." As an example, Turkson spoke of the weapons used by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, asking: "Who makes them available?"

"There are people making money on the trafficking of weapons," said the cardinal. Developing a narrative of brotherhood Turkson, a native Ghanaian, was recently appointed by Francis to lead a new Vatican office streamlining the church's worldwide efforts on justice, peace, charity, healthcare and migration.

The office, to be called the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and coming into function Jan. 1, will combine the work of four pontifical councils, including the peace and justice council.

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