Cardinal, Colonel seek to justify war

It’s not often you get to see a Cardinal debate with a Colonel. Political, military and religious heavy-hitters gathered Monday evening to debate the diplomatic, dogmatic, and Catholic consequences of the wars in Iraq and

It’s not often you get to see a Cardinal debate with a Colonel.

Political, military and religious heavy-hitters gathered Monday evening to debate the diplomatic, dogmatic, and Catholic consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a forum organized in part by two Temple professors.

Intellectual Heritage professors Patrick Messina and Dr. Craig de Paulo are both influential members of the Philadelphia chapter of the Knights of Malta, a Catholic military order dating back to the Crusades. They hosted seven guests at the Union League on Broad Street for a symposium on just-war theory and its potential applications in the Middle East.

“There can be no abandoning of just-war principles,” said Avery Cardinal Dulles, the ranking member of the Catholic Church in attendance, in his opening address. “The infliction of harm has to be justified.”

De Paulo, who served as moderator for the event, later spelled out the “five plus two” principles for just war as established by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas: “legitimate authority, just cause, right intention, [striking] military targets only, and [war as] a last resort…as well as a serious possibility of success” and a measure of “proportionality,” which requires that more lives would be spared by taking action than by not.

Dr. John Caputo, a professor at Syracuse and Villanova universities and mentor to de Paulo, felt that greater caution was necessary in pre-emptive measures.

“We took a pre-emptive strike at Iraq, and we were wrong,” Caputo explained. “We rallied all the allies against the U.S…in a strike which has proven to be ill-advised.”

Retired Colonel Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient and military analyst for MSNBC, agreed with Caputo, at least in part. “Saddam Hussein is a really bad guy, needed to be knocked over,” Jacobs said. “But not first.”

Over the course of the symposium, Caputo’s voice stood out more and more as the dissenting opinion on a panel that largely supported American policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Particularly vocal was George Marlin, the former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose successor was killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

When Caputo stressed that he believed a threat must be “certain and imminent” to facilitate a pre-emptive strike, such as the operation taking place in Iraq, Marlin was quick to respond.

“We have 400 million people annually that come through our facility,” Marlin said of the Port Authority, whose domain includes the World Trade Center. “And professionals have to make the decision on what to do…When you have responsibility for 400 million people using your facilities, then we’ll see how you operate on that.”

Other panelists stressed the decisions made by others, such as the Pope, over their own. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of the Archdiocese for the U.S. Military often interjected the actions of the Pope into the discussion, particularly on the question of how to justify a war using Catholic principles when the Pope had previously condemned it.

“When the Supreme Pontiff speaks in this capacity, it is not the doctrine of the church, but as the conscience of the faith,” O’Brien suggested.

On the same subject of faith, de Paulo asked the panelists to respond to the widely-whispered theory that President George W. Bush was using the wars in the Middle East as a sort of “holy war or crusade.”

“I think that is nonsense,” replied Dr. Joseph Hagan, whose titles include chairman of the Board of Trustees at John Cabot University in Rome.

Jacobs added that the president likely had an “underlying strategic vision” whose ultimate goal was to “inoculate the region with democracy.”

In concluding the two-hour discussion, de Paulo queried the panel as to whether the Catholic principles of just war still applied to situations such as the one in Iraq today. The response was varied.

“They do certainly apply, they will apply always and everywhere,” said Dulles, but added that recently there have been “a lot of changes we have to reckon with.”

O’Brien agreed, and suggested that nations spell out national principles to validate just war theory.

Dr. Thomas Melady, diplomat in residence at the World Institute of Politics in Washington, was less certain, but stressed “we need more discussions like this.”

Caputo, dissenting again, suggested that the difficulty with a “war on terror” is that “war is between sovereign nations,” not nations and nouns, and recommended a course of “police action” rather than a military operation to deal with Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Hagan, too, warned caution: “These principles [of just war] are sound, however, we do have a totally different situation now.”

The complete symposium transcript will be published by St. Augustine’s Press, and co-edited by de Paulo and Marlin.

Leah Blewett can be reached at

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