Joseph Capizzi of Catholic University in a recent article for Providence analyzed Pope Francis’s new encyclical Fratelli Tutti‘s seeming negative towards traditional Just War teaching. Here Capizzi helpfully further explains how he believes the Pope is acting in continuity with Catholic teaching’s presumption against war while also admitting lethal force in the fallen world is still tragically necessary in defense of the innocent and in pursuit of justice.

Capizzi is a professor of moral theology and ethics while also heading the Institute for Human Ecology.

The topic is complex but he navigates carefully. I hope you learn as much as I did.

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, and today I have the pleasure of conversing with my friend Joseph Capizzi, professor at Catholic University here in Washington, DC, about his recent fascinating article analyzing the latest and sacred call from Pope Francis Fratelli Tutti, if I’m pronouncing that correctly. And specifically, specifically Joe is examining what it has to say, or how it relates, to the church’s historic stance on Just War teaching, which of course is a special interest to Providence. So, Joe, thank you so much for joining this conversation, and please give us the definitive explanation of what the Pope is saying about Just War teaching.

Capizzi: Right. Well, thank you, first of all Mark, it’s my pleasure to talk to you again. And obviously, to talk on behalf of Providence about serious questions relating to the use of force. I think there’s a, let’s say, there’s almost like two ways of looking at this. One way of looking at it, and I think this is what is animated a lot of Catholic responses, but also the responses of those who care about the Just War tradition, like other writers of Providence, is to think of it in terms of some sort of movement being made by the Church away from classical analysis of thinking about justification, use of force, which we call it for short, and Just War. Another way of looking at it I think would just be instead of, sort of place it in the context of the magisterial tradition of papal pronouncements on war. That’s part of what I did in the essay, that second thing, which was to say for a long time, though folks have been saying war is a failure, war is no longer an apt means of pursuing certain kinds of political goods. Both of those approaches I think can be maintained simultaneous, and we can sort of look at to what extent is a kind of trend in Catholicism, or in Catholic teaching, away from Just War analysis, also looking at the way popes in particular have spoken about these kinds of questions. And I don’t think they’re incompatible. I do think that there has been a papal trend away from justification for the use of force, kind of narrowing of those justifications that mirrors, maybe lags a little bit the way that popes have thought about capital punishment, increasingly kind of sharpening and narrowing what they see as the justification for these things. Even while they recognize that in some sense the rationale, the apparatus for thinking about these kinds of acts, capital punishment and Just War, remains in place in some in some way.

Tooley: So, when the Pope seems to refer negatively to Augustine and his role in developing that Just War tradition, what is your response to that reference?

Capizzi: I called it kind of puzzling. I find that footnote puzzling, it’s underexplained. And there’s, again, at least two ways of seeing it as puzzling or underexplained. The first is that Augustine doesn’t really provide the kind of criteria the footnote refers to in the paragraph from which it comes, that criteria develops over time. And like really economically, it appears in St. Thomas Aquinas, his work. And then it gets used by the theological tradition, Catholic and non-Catholic, over time, and even refined over time. So, it’s not really Augustine’s rational criteria. I think there’s a language that the footnote uses, it’s rational criteria that are developed and articulated by other people later. It’s implicit in Augustine sure, but the deeper shortcoming, and my analysis, is that it’s that the encyclical and Pope Francis’s language really relies on Just War analysis in order to criticize the invocations of Just War language in the recent past. So, actually, we’re not really getting rid of that kind of analysis. We were using that; we continue to use that kind of analysis. The encyclical itself continues to use that kind of analysis in order to point to what it considers some unjustifiable uses of force, where the language was rhetorically bent by people in the past, and I didn’t even say more strongly. We actually can’t abandon that language. We can’t abandon that thinking because it’s just the language and the thinking of good moral action analysis. It’s intentionality and cause. I mean, these are all just the good tools of any kind of action analysis, including political action analysis.

Tooley: Is it not accurate to say that the Catholic Church’s political theology and its understanding of the state built into it is the premise that the state must, not just can, but must use lethal force in some circumstances in pursuit of the public good?

Capizzi: Yeah, I think. First of all, I wouldn’t use the language of state. I would use the language of governing authority number one, because state prism presupposes a kind of historical entity that comes into being over time. Right, so I’d modify your claim just in that respect. But I’d say as a consequence of sin. The political theology of the church assumes that the use of force is going to be necessary in certain circumscribed context. This is a consequence of the fallenness of human nature and the discord that prevails. As a consequence of that openness, we’re not going to be without that. Fallenness is in our lived experiences of communal relationships as human beings, and therefore political authorities do sometimes have to make use of instruments and have for us to essentially realign wills, to resist wills that are acting against certain goods. And perhaps to realign wills that are in discord with each other. This is analogous to punishment, right. Punishment exists as a consequence of human sin, and punishment can be done justly and unjustly, but that it can be done justly is important for the ongoing operation of political authority.

Tooley: And you saw the interview I had with Father Drew Christiansen?

Capizzi: I always watch your interviews, Mark.

Tooley: I’m sure you took a special interest in that in the sense that he’s a long-time ethicist, who has especially focused on the ethics over nuclear weapons over the years. But as he explained it, the Pope is essentially working along the lines of away from Just War teaching, but affirming de facto responsibility to protect, and the obligation at times, to intervene militarily on humanity for humanitarian purposes. Would you agree with that interpretation?

Capizzi: I would agree with it, both in terms of his analysis, what he thinks Pope Francis is doing, or what the popes even are doing since, I mean John Paul II included. Benedict as well. And also, in terms of how, like the rationale, the Catholic rationale, of the just use of force. I had my problems with the language of the responsibility to protect, but what you see in the modern papacy is, as Father Drew said, a concern that is different from what you see in like Protestant understanding of Just War analysis or Protestant defenses of realism. And that is a much more robust sense of the role of international authority in authorizing the use of force. The popes have since the middle of the 20th century looked to international authority to try to resolve political problems and to build itself up, either through international developments in international law or developments in international organizations themselves, to be arbiters in conflict, to be circumscribing the uses of, the just uses of force, the means of force, and so on, and to be building the kinds of habits of political statesmanship that will look to solve problems without using the instruments of war. And responsibility to protect is a particular kind of movement towards that international authorization, of course. You’re more or less trying to create a situation that is like the domestic analogy and punishment, where you create some international source of authority that judges when it’s appropriate to step in on behalf of a persecuted minority, or persecuted population, doesn’t have to be an already persecuted population, even justifying the uses of instruments, of course, in those situations. And I think probably Drew is absolutely right that this is a trend you’re seeing and in papal pronouncements. I think it’s a trend totally consistent with the rationale of Just War analysis, tracing way back through the centuries, especially in some of the Spanish scholastics like Francisco Victoria and Suarez. I think you see elements of this already there as well.

Tooley: So, if the Catholic Church continues on this road of moving away from traditional Just War teaching, is there still a role within the church for Catholic theologians who affirm the traditional teaching?

Capizzi: I’m rejecting the premise, Mark. We’re not moving away from traditional Just War theory. What you’re seeing is the reemergence of Just War theory. That unlike, I think arguably, the more Protestant variants of it, is less nation-state dependent. Okay. I think Protestant variants of it are, generally speaking, more nation-state dependent. The Catholic variants of it are less nation-state dependent. They’ve existed in the context of empire. They’ve existed in the context of pre-nation states. You see this in, again like the Spaniards, as they’re encountering indigenous populations of the Americas. And you’re trying to figure out how do we respond rightly to what’s happening here in their considerations of to what extent are these human beings members of political communities to which we have responsibilities, and what part of Fratelli Tutti is doing, part of what you see in June testaments honest in its first opening sections is this recognition that political communities, and let’s say like nation states, are a contingent thing. They are not morally prior to the goods of people’s or to the goods of individual human beings. They serve those things, and certain kinds of political threats to their existence have to be met with an openness to increasing inclusiveness to recognizing that. When we respond with force to some threat, we have to be open to our enemy as a potential member of our political community after this is over, or potential member of a kind of political international community or regional community that is going to have to coexist. This is when the pope always says, always begins these kinds of analysis by saying, “Peace is not merely the absence of war.” Right. It’s also bringing these people into our communities with whom we have fought; with whom we have ideological differences. We’re trying now to incorporate them more robustly into a thriving political community. That is actually pursuing a peace, a deeper piece than simply the absence of war. So, I don’t think it’s a movement away from the traditional account. I think it’s a, it’s a movement away from an account that is very nation-state dependent, and it can be criticized on those grounds too. I mean, you can say you’re overly optimistic about either the demise of the nation state or the capacities of international authority, not themselves to express particular political ideologies or from particular political agendas. I think these are all real considerations that have to be weighed on, but the popes are leaning on negotiations, solid solidarity, right, inclusive fidelity to write like this notion of brothers — that we’re really brothers beneath ideological differences, we’re really brothers beneath scarcity of resources, and so on. And these things ought to help bring us together absent coerced force.

Tooley: It sounds like, at the very least, when the church describes justified resort to force, a different kind of language will be used other than the phrase Just War, is that correct?
Capizzi: Maybe. Yeah, probably. So, one of the things that’s interesting, right, is if you look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and you look at section where it talks about the use of force, the language of Just War is hesitating in there. It’s not like Catholic official documents don’t typically refer to Just War. There’s no like official just war theory. There’s a kind of, I think it might even be in quotation marks I think, or is it say something like “this is the so-called Just War” something. It’s not like this kind of wholesome embrace of that language. But I don’t think that relates to the apparatus of thinking about political act, right. What Ramsey Donovan and others have called the political act, and that act of judging and of serving judgment by the instruments that are at the hands of those in political authority, even up to use of force. That rationale, which is what makes us that footnote puzzling, the rationality remains in place. I really do think it has to remain in place. And you see even Francis in Fratelli Tutti by implication and minimal sort of relying on that language in order to reject certain kinds of recent conflicts.

Tooley: And so, finally, Joe, you’re obviously aware of the Pope’s many, many critics, who are not silent and who allege that he is moving the church away from traditional teaching on a variety of fronts. But you would believe that that is not the case, and that there is a discernible continuity in his pronouncements and the churches historic teaching?

Capizzi: Yeah, look. Absolutely. I don’t want to dismiss the fact of confusion in the world, and I think the confusion is deeper than this pope or prior popes. It’s not like Pope Francis is the first pope where people are scratching their heads about things that he’s saying, right, and that happens for sure. With Pope Benedict and to some extent, like probably a lesser extent with Pope John Paul II, but we live in a different age, right. Social media in particular is toxic, and I mean, you see the critics of the popes themselves going after each other over issues of confusion and lack of clarity. His teaching on war I see as consistent in the way I’ve said, and I also think his traditional teaching, his emphases are different. I think there is a trend that is narrowing the sort of state justification of war, right, that again, we’re used to. His teaching on property I find perfectly consistent with the tradition. It’s newly emphatic, in ways that are responsive to massive inequality, that distribution, and so on. So, it’s emphasizing the good of universal destination of goods and so on. But that’s been in papal teaching for ages, and it’s old teaching in Protestant and Catholic theology. And I think the same is true of other aspects of Catholic moral teaching. So, I don’t see him as the maverick that some of his critics think of him being.

Tooley: Joseph Capizzi, professor at Catholic University of America, thank you very much for, as expected, a very educational conversation about Pope Francis, his latest encyclical, and how it relates to Just War teaching.

Capizzi: Thank you, Mark. My pleasure. Take care.