Catholics, Abortion and the Iraq War: A Pro-Life Priest’s View

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 14, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholics, Abortion and the Iraq War: A Pro-Life Priest’s View

by Father Frank Pavone
June 14, 2004 Note: Father Frank Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life.

This column requires extra effort to explain what it is not. It is not an evaluation of the war in Iraq or of any national leaders.

It is, however, an observation, on the level of moral principle, about the relationship between abortion, war, and being pro-life. And even there, I am limiting myself to a couple of very simple and specific points, and not an exhaustive analysis.

In his historic speech to the United Nations in 1965, Pope Paul VI cried out, "War never again, war never again!" The world must heed these words. They don’t just mean, "Don’t fight!" They mean that we have to make justice and human rights so secure that the
need to fight disappears.

Many ask whether one can be a good Catholic or be pro-life and support the war. The answer is yes, which is to say that Catholic and pro-life teaching do allow for circumstances in which war is justified, because sometimes war has to be waged precisely for the defense of life.

Even when war is justified, life is always lost in the process. But innocent life is never targeted, and that makes all the difference in the world. How many innocent lives, and how many children, have been deliberately targeted for destruction in the current war?

By comparison, every abortion deliberately targets and destroys a child; otherwise, it isn’t even an abortion.

The purpose of war is not to kill the enemy, but rather to deprive the enemy of his ability to wage war and to destroy others’ rights. There’s a big difference between targeting military/communications equipment to disrupt the operations of the enemy, and just trying to kill as many people as you can.

No doubt, some will read this column and begin arguing with me that the war in Iraq is not justified. This column is not arguing with them, but precisely pointing out that it is OK for them to come to that conclusion. It is also OK for someone else to come to the conclusion that the war is justified.

What is not OK is for someone to say, "You are not pro-life because you support the war."

In fact, one may support the war precisely because he or she is pro-life and concludes that in this case, force is the only way to protect human life, human rights, and human freedom from the hands of those who would destroy it. Others may disagree with the conclusion, which is fine — but don’t deny the other person’s right to come to the conclusion.

And do not miss the profound difference with abortion. There is no room for interpretations or evaluations of whether abortion may be justified. It cannot be, because its very essence is the deliberate targeting and destruction of a child. In war, we do not target a single child, whereas every abortion targets a child. Catholic teaching allows more than one position on war, but it does not allow more than one position on abortion.