Yesterday Pope Francis endorsed military action to stop the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) from persecuting religious minorities, especially Christians and Yazidis, in Iraq. The pope’s statement is to be welcomed—albeit with serious reservations.
As various experts noted, the Vatican is typically opposed to any sort of military action. James Bretzke, a priest and professor of moral theology at Boston College, told USA Today that “popes in recent history have all lined up against any military intervention, including World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and, most recently, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.”
Indeed, just last month Pope Francis issued a passionate plea for both Israel and Hamas to cease fighting in Gaza and put down their weapons. "Please stop," the pope said in his weekly address from the balcony in Saint Peter's Square. "Brothers and sisters, never war, never war! I am thinking above all of children, who are deprived of the hope of a worthwhile life, of a future."
So why is this situation different? How is Hamas, a terrorist organization that targets Jews, a Middle East minority, different from ISIS, a terrorist organization that goes after Christians, Shia, Yazidis, and, presumably, if given the chance, Jews? Regarding ISIS, Francis reasoned that “where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor…I underscore the verb 'stop.' I'm not saying 'bomb' or 'make war,' just 'stop.'”
The pope is not naïve. What stops violence is not careful verb choice, but violence. So why is it licit to use violence to stop this unjust aggressor and not Hamas or, for instance, Bashar al-Assad?
Last September the pope held a peace vigil to protest proposed U.S. military action against the Assad regime. “May the noise of weapons cease!” Francis proclaimed. “War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity," said the pope, just a few weeks after the Syrian regime launched a chemical weapons attack against civilians in a Damascus suburb. The videos of the aftermath of the attack and the testimony of the survivors documented what many would also consider a defeat for humanity—men, women, and children treated like insects by a vicious ruling order while the world looks the other way, while the servant of the servants of God convenes peace rallies.
Some experts argue that Francis is building his case for support of military action against the Islamic State in terms of “Just War” theory, but for others it is hard not to conclude that given his stand against violence to stop Assad or Hamas, the Vicar of Christ is either a relativist, or perhaps worse, has taken sides in a sectarian conflict.
Even before the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011, the Alawite-led Assad regime has long portrayed itself as a protector of Christians and other minorities. Syrian regime allies have also put forth variations of the same argument, like the Lebanese patriarch of the Catholic Maronite church, Bechara al-Rahi, who when the Syrian uprising first broke out worried about the fate of Lebanon’s Christians if Sunnis took over in Syria. Indeed, many Christian clerics in Syria have come out openly on behalf of Assad and his murderous policies, a stark reminder that many of the Middle East’s men of faith are little more than spokesmen for the narrow interests of their sect or clan. It is natural and just to seek to protect your own, but there is no scriptural basis for petitioning Caesar to lay waste to the other tribe so that yours may thrive.
Students from the Harvard Extension School at Harvard University are hosting a "Satanic black mass," which will take place tonight in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"A black mass ceremony is a ritual performed by satanic cults to parody the Catholic Church Mass. Historically, the ceremony features a ritual of sacrilege of the Catholic host, or the sacred bread used in the Eucharist, which becomes the body of Jesus Christ upon consecration," the Harvard Crimson explains.
President Obama came into office on a promise to end divisiveness and suspicion and other things that blind us to our common humanity. It was a nice idea which he has since discarded in favor of stigmatizing and demonizing his political enemies and, when that doesn't work, using the powers of the state to intimidate them.
In an interview that aired this morning, President Obama was asked whether he'd have too much influence over an American pope. He didn't answer the question, but he did say he hopes the next pope carries the "central message of the Gospel":
Cardinals will not allowed to access their Twitter accounts during conclave, according to Catholic News Service. This restriction is applicable to the 9 cardinals who have Twitter accounts. In all, there are "117 red-vested princes of the church who are eligible to vote for a new pope."
Although not widely noticed, Mitt Romney seems to be on his way to capturing as much of the white evangelical vote as George W. Bush famously did in 2004. Bush got 79 percent. A Pew poll conducted before the first presidential debate had Romney getting 74 percent of white evangelicals versus 19 percent for Obama.
Addressing a largely Catholic audience Monday night at an event sponsored by the John Carroll Society in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Timothy Dolan emphasized the non-sectarian, non-partisan—catholic with a small “c”—nature of the fight for religious liberty. “It is not some far right, extremist cause,” Dolan said, but an “American human rights issue.”
On May 7, 2012, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the largest organization of rabbis in the United States, approved a resolution recognizing that the Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that mandates employers provide access to contraceptives, abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations forces many employers to “violate the injunctions of their religion.” The RCA, which represents more than 1,000 Orthodox rabbis, urged the Obama administration to amend the regulation to protect the religious liberties of all employers.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a bold stand for religious freedom. In a recent statement, titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the bishops call for repeal of contraception coverage mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services. The clarified position sets up a dramatic confrontation with the Obama administration—and would, if the bishops prevail, help preserve the religious liberty of all Americans.