November 22, 2020
By Arthur I. Cyr
“An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth …,” is a useful starting place for discussion of the influence of Pope Francis, who is proving to be a remarkably active and activist leader of the Roman Catholic Church. To modern readers, the Biblical quote (Exodus 21:24) may seem brutal, but the Old Testament sentiment actually represented revolutionary progress.
Ancient warfare involved unrestrained killing and pillaging. By contrast, this Hebrew law codified proportionality and limits. Historically and currently, the Vatican has played an important role in restraining and restricting warfare, building on this fundamental insight.
Shocking criminal sexual abuse by priests is a principal contemporary challenge. In 2015, a Vatican tribunal was established to review and judge cases of sexual abuse. Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI publicly acknowledged the criminal behavior, met with victims and apologized.
The world wars of the past century reconfirmed the Catholic Church’s emphasis on restraint in war. Contemporary Catholic analysis of ethics and military strategy is spearheaded by influential scholars such as J. Bryan Hehir, a senior priest and faculty member at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
During the Cold War, Fr. Hehir guided the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ influential report on use of nuclear weapons. Hehir also bluntly criticized his church for mishandling sex abuse crimes by priests.
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