Pope Tries to Pray Away Putin

Pope Tries to Pray Away Putin
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The following item from the Vatican Information Service was delivered to my email:

At the end of today's catechesis the Pope launched an appeal for an end to the violence among the "beloved Ukrainian people."

"Unfortunately, the situation is worsening," he said, "and there is an escalation of hostilities between the parties. Let us pray firstly for the victims, many of whom are civilians, and their families, and let us ask the Lord for an end, as soon as possible, to this horrible fratricidal violence. I renew my heartfelt appeal that every effort be made -- also at an international level -- to resume dialogue, the only way possible to restore peace and harmony to this ravaged land."

"Brothers and sisters," he continued, "when I hear the words 'victory' or 'defeat,' I feel great suffering, a great sadness in my heart. These are not the right words: the only right word is 'peace.' This is the only right word. I think of you, Ukrainian brothers and sisters. ... Think, this is a war between Christians! You have all had the same baptism! You are fighting among yourselves, with other Christians. Think of this scandal. And let us all pray, so that our prayer might be our protest before God in this time of war."

Pope Francis's plea can be poignantly juxtaposed with the reports in my morning paper that the U.S. and some other NATO members are moving towards giving Ukraine lethal defensive military assistance.

In the abstract, of course, the pope is correct: Peace is the ultimate end. No Christian could disagree.

Once peace has been disrupted, however, his position is confusing, both morally and politically. It ignores the acts of aggression that created the scandal of war among Christians. The state of war is horrifying. The aggression waged by Russia is doubly horrifying. Coercive acts to halt the aggression and defend Ukraine, including assisting it in fighting a war of self-defense, could be morally justifiable, depending on other criteria used to assess the morality of war. It ignores the necessity for political action to stymie the aggression.

One cannot count on prayers swaying Putin's heart and mind. Like Stalin, he is interested in knowing how many divisions he will have to face.

First, the policy of the West must seek eventually the establishment of peace. Firm counterpressures against Russia aggression must be designed so as to minimize the risk of exacerbating the frictions with Russia and making the war in Ukraine a step towards a clash of civilizations. Second, establishing that there is a just cause for war is not sufficient to establish that a war would be just.

Among other important considerations, Western policy must soberly assess whether the provision of lethal military assistance would improve the Ukrainian chances of effective military resistance to Russian aggression. The question must be asked, "What will be the next steps if Russia responds by escalating its support for the separatists?"

Moral impulses can lead to disastrous policy and quite immoral results. Considerations of prudent, pragmatic policy must also be included in the moral calculus.

Patrick Callahan is an emeritus professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

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