A Catholic priest has called for Christians to take a stand against Islamic terror, arguing that pacifism in the face of mortal danger is immoral and un-Christian.
On Monday, Europe, already reeling from a wave of Islamic terrorist attacks in France and Germany, was again shocked by the beheading of a Catholic priest near Rouen in France in an apparent ritual sacrifice of some kind.
Responding to the attack, Pope Francis expressed his “pain and horror for this absurd violence, with the strongest condemnation for every form of hatred and prayer for those affected,” and is reported to have prayed that God would “inspire in all thoughts of reconciliation and brotherhood”.
Meanwhile Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, said: “The Catholic Church can take up no weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among people of goodwill.” He asked the people of his diocese “not to give in to violence,” but instead “become apostles of the civilization of love”.
But writing for LifeZette.com, Father George Rutler, the pastor of St. Michael’s church in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, argues that not only is such pacifism immoral, it is the Christian duty to protect both oneself and other innocents from violent aggressors.
Referring to Jesus’s exhortation, found in Matthew 5:39 – “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” – Fr. Rutler says that this isn’t an instruction to engage in pacifism, as so many European Christians appear to believe.
“Turning the other cheek is the counsel Christ gave in the instance of an individual when morally insulted: Humility conquers pride. It has nothing to do with self-defence,” he says.
Arguing rather that pacifism is therefore a corruption of the virtue of peace, Fr. Rutler continues: “As racism distorts race and sexism corrupts sex — so does pacifism affront peace.
“To shrink from the moral duty to protect peace by not using force […] is not innocence — it is naiveté.”
He points to the Catholic Catechism, which directs Catholics to engage in legitimate self-defence as part of the duty to love ourselves as we do our neighbours.
Paragraph 2263 of the Catechism reads: “The legitimate defence of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing.”
The next continues: “Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.”
And illustrating the requirement for Christians to protect other innocents from aggressors, especially Christians in a position of responsibility, such as a father for his family or a national leader, the Catechism continues: “Legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.
“The defence of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.”
In previous centuries, Fr. Rutler, says, this would not have been controversial.
“Saint John Capistrano led an army against the Moors in 1456 to protect Belgrade. In 1601, Saint Lawrence of Brindisi did the same in defense of Hungary. As Franciscans, they carried no sword and charged on horseback into battle carrying a crucifix. They inspired the shrewd generals and soldiers, whom they had assembled through artful diplomacy, with their brave innocence.
“This is not obscure trivia: Were it not for Charles Martel at Tours in 732 and Jan Sobieski at the gates of Vienna in 1683 — and most certainly had Pope Saint Pius V not enlisted Andrea Doria and Don Juan at Lepanto in 1571 — we would not be here now. No Western nations as we know them — no universities, no modern science, no human rights — would exist.”
The tragedy of our times, Fr. Rutler argues, is that the West has grown complacent, and in doing so has lost touch with its Christian roots.
“The dormancy of Islam until recent times, however, has obscured the threat that this poses — especially to a Western civilisation that has grown flaccid in virtue and ignorant of its own moral foundations.
“On the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, there were over 60 speeches, and yet not one of them mentioned ISIS.
“Vice has destroyed countless individual souls, but in the decline of civilizations, weakness has done more harm than vice. ‘Peace for our time’ is as empty now as it was when Chamberlain went to Munich and honour was bartered in Vichy.”
The question before us, therefore, is whether Western civilisation has drifted so far away from its Christian foundations that not only does it no longer recognise the need to vigorously defend our civilisation, it also cannot name the threat.
“The priest in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvrary in Normandy, France, was not the first to die at the altar — and he will not be the last,” says Fr. Rutler.
“In his old age, the priest embodied a civilisation that has been betrayed by a generation whose hymn was John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ — that there was neither heaven nor hell but ‘above us only sky’ and ‘all the people living for today’. When reality intrudes, they can only leave teddy bears and balloons at the site of a carnage they call ‘inexplicable’.”