Bishop Gumbleton Sees Peace As Gospel Imperative
Published: March 31, 2011
Eighty-one-year-old Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, the retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, and a founding member and past president of Pax Christi USA, led a Lenten retreat at Sacred Heart of Jesus Basilica, Atlanta, March 14-16. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
ATLANTA—Jesus requires people to make a stand for justice.
Part history lesson and part theology discussion, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit traced the Catholic Church’s stance against war during a Lenten retreat here.
“War must belong to the terrible past. If there is such a thing as infallible teaching, this is it,” said Bishop Gumbleton, a founder of Pax Christi USA.
The church’s just war theory, an attempt to limit war and control its devastation, is often ignored or misinterpreted, Bishop Gumbleton said.
“Thou shall not kill. Yet somehow we keep doing it,” he said.
Bishop Gumbleton gave a three-day presentation at Sacred Heart Basilica starting on March 14 about the church’s teaching on peace and violence.
“I have to say, prayer is not enough. If we are true to our faith, Jesus compels us to make a stand,” on issues of war and peace, said Bishop Gumbleton.
Barbara Clement, who attends Sacred Heart and teaches religion, said she came to the evening discussion with an open mind and walked away with a new understanding of historical events.
The bishop used a lot of names and events talked about in history class years ago, she said. “It’s made me rethink,” she said.
James Kane, who is joining the church at Easter at Sacred Heart, admires Gandhi so he was pleased to learn from the bishop how popes in the past have spoken highly of Gandhi’s teaching on nonviolence.
“I wish the whole church had been full,” he said.
Kane said the bishop’s point of view was compelling. There were broad statements of the church’s opposition to war and the bishop encouraged Catholics to put those words into practice, said Kane.
Bishop Gumbleton served for nearly 30 years in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He was a member of the U.S. bishops’ committees that drafted the pastoral letter on peace, “The Challenge of Peace” and initiated the pastoral letter “Always Our Children” to parents of gay children. He founded Pax Christi USA, the national chapter of this international Catholic peace organization, and has been arrested outside the White House during war protests.
During his nearly one-hour talk, the bishop, wearing a purple sweater, stood in the center aisle, reading from his notes, drawing on history and writings of the popes and the Second Vatican Council.
Bishop Gumbleton criticized how the just war theory is used to endorse war instead of its original intent. He said the theory, dating to the fifth century, aims to limit war as a last resort with four strict conditions: a nation must be attacked; all other steps besides conflict must be impractical or ineffective; there must be a serious prospect of success; and conflict must not produce disorder and evils greater than what exists.
Changes in military strategy make the theory outdated, he said. He said the theory was written when soldiers met each other on a battlefield and not with current military strategy that he called “total war” where civilians and innocents are targeted for destruction. He talked about the Allied bombing of Dresden in Germany in World War II—with an estimated 25,000 killed—as an example of military strikes killing civilians.
The change in technology and warfare makes the just war theory obsolete, he said.
There is no justified use of modern war, he said. “We have to get rid of that idea,” he said. And popes and bishops have made that clear, he said.
Church leaders have written extensively in opposition to military action. Pope John XXIII wrote “Peace on Earth” (“Pacem In Terris”) in 1963 that grabbed the world’s attention with its call for international cooperation. The bishops at Vatican II authored “On the Church in the Modern World” (“Gadium et Spes”) that repeated the message. Pope John Paul II included an anti-war message in “Centesimus Annus” (“The Hundredth Year”) in 1991 and sent emissaries to the United States to try and prevent the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he noted.