I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but this probably ends that hope forever.
If you are like this columnist, you may have missed the recent prayer vigil in front of St. Peter’s, which featured Pope Francis leading tens of thousands of the faithful in protest of the sickening Russian military strikes in Aleppo that have targeted hospitals, aid convoys and innocent civilians.
Surely there must have been such a vigil, right? And at least as prominent as the one in September 2013? Back then Pope Francis led a muchpublicized vigil aimed at dissuading President Obama from launching airstrikes on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military assets after the strongman had gassed more than a thousand people in the suburbs of Damascus, including hundreds of children.
Remember those heady days? The tweets from the Holy Father himself: “War never again! Never again war!” Or his letter to Vladimir Putin during the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, in which Pope Francis implored leaders there (read: Uncle Sam) “to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”
Not to mention Mr. Putin’s own use of Pope Francis in an op-ed that appeared shortly after in the pages of the New York Times. There Mr. Putin put it this way: “The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.”
So surely if the Holy Father was outraged in 2013 by what Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized would be an “unbelievably small strike,” he must be even more indignant over the cynical way Mr. Putin has used the entree the pope helped give him in Syria to use Russian air power to launch his own deadly strikes.
But somehow there are no Pope Francis vigils over the war crimes committed by Mr. Putin’s war planes.
Then again, we didn’t see the vigil candles come out at St. Peter’s when Mr. Putin invaded Crimea. Nor when Russian-backed separatists shot down a Malaysia Airlines jetliner over Ukraine.
To the contrary, as Russian forces declare victory in Aleppo, the pope has been reduced to telling the world not to forget Aleppo and entreating Mr. Assad to play nice.
Now, at the time President Obama was proposing his military strike, even some hawks opposed it on the grounds it was only a gesture meant for show. This was a solid and reasonable objection.
But this was not the objection of Pope Francis. True, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had urged against American military action, the former with regard to Iraq and the latter with Libya.
But this pope’s objections have been coupled with a softness toward Moscow hard to imagine coming from either of his two predecessors. And the argument that Mr. Putin’s use of force is welcome because it is protecting the Christians of Aleppo—who feel safer under Assad than under ISIS—does not work for Pope Francis: He’s insisted all along there are no military solutions, even as Mr. Putin has now imposed one.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church” holds that the “use of arms must not produce evils and disorders greater than the evil to be eliminated.”
A sound principle. But what about the evils produced when those who have the arms won’t use them to protect those who have no defense? In short, there’s a reason that when Thomas Aquinas discusses just war, he does so in his chapter on charity. To put it all in biblical terms, what would have been the obligation on the Good Samaritan if he had come across his victim as the man was being beaten rather than afterward?
Aleppo is not Pope Francis’ fault. It is the fault of those who have willfully chosen atrocity to advance their larger goals, whether this be the ISIS forces who hope to impose their brand of extremism on Syria, or Mr. Assad, who has reduced Aleppo to rubble to eliminate any opposition to his brutal regime. Not to mention outsiders such as Mr. Putin and the Sunni supporters of ISIS who have enabled these evils.
At the time Pope Francis took his stand against U.S. intervention in Syria, an article in the National Catholic Register framed it this way: “The Pope has positioned himself as the foremost champion of finding peaceful solutions to the conflict, and Putin has demonstrated in recent days that he has the capability to deliver diplomatic alternatives to the punishing military strikes favored by Obama over Syria’s chemical weapons.”
Let’s hope what has followed in Aleppo might occasion some papal modesty, and perhaps a more ecumenical outlook when it comes to regarding the use of force by global powers. For the essence of civilization is this: The strong protect the weak. When the use of force is taken off the table, the strong prey on the weak.
In September, the pope thundered that those bombing civilians in Aleppo will one day have to “account to God.” Until then, the moral undermining of American intervention has guaranteed they will account to no one.