The United States stands ready to engage in yet another military action that the U.S. bishops and pope have condemned as unjust. Despite the bishops’ rather vocal condemnation of what the United States military is about to do in the skies of Syria, they do not characterize the United States military as “intrinsically disordered” or as bearing a consistent inclination to injustice.
Of course, there is more to the U.S. military than simply war–it operates as a massive, tax-payer funded wealth creator for defense contractors, it provides discipline and job training for millions of young people, and it occasionally hands out emergency supplies in the aftermath of natural disaster–but war, undoubtedly, provides the military’s telos and ultimate purpose. And, according to even a conservative interpretation of Catholic teaching on the morality of war, the vast majority of U.S. military action qualifies as unjust and unwarranted. Especially in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, the U.S. military has typically acted as an agent of imperial power and not justice. (For an excellent overview of the criteria of Christian just war doctrine, see Stephen Okey’s piece in the blog Daily Theology.)
Despite all of this, the church still lends its institutional support to the U.S. military. The Catholic church contains a diocese reserved entirely for the military and sponsors a Catholic chaplaincy that follows Catholic soldiers wherever they go. While a Catholic military chaplaincy certainly could, in theory, help to ensure that Catholic soldiers conform to Catholic teaching during their stay in the military, the U.S. military does not allow for selective conscientious objection. Catholic soldiers cannot follow church teaching on war and peace even when they want to. I fear that the Catholic chaplaincy operates more like a stamp of approval than a form of moral checks and balances.
Nor does the church provide chaplains for Catholics who travel to non-Catholic countries while serving in organizations like the Peace Corps. Surely Catholic members of the Peace Corps working “in the field” often lack ready access to the sacraments. The military chaplaincy would seem to therefore be about more than simply providing Catholic soldiers with the sacraments.
But despite all of this, church leaders do not discourage members of the church’s corporate body from joining the military.
They seemingly believe that the good the U.S. military does outweighs the bad. But this is not the moral schema applied to abortion-providing or contraception-dispensing hospitals. It is not the moral framework levied to assess so-called Obamacare. And it is certainly not the set of standards used to categorically condemn romantic relationships between lesbians and gays. No matter how loving or life-giving lesbian and gay relationships are, no matter how selflessly gays and lesbians love their partners and extended families, all goodness flowing from their love is cancelled out by the purported evil of the sex they have.
As I argued in an earlier post entitled, “If Catholics Should Give Up Hospitals for Lent, Should We Also Give Up The Military?”
If being made to pay, even indirectly, for birth control is reason enough for the Catholic church to get out of the healthcare business, shouldn’t being made to participate, even indirectly, in the execution of unjust wars be reason enough for the the Catholic church to get out of the military business? When it comes to church teaching on women’s sexuality, there is no good good enough to justify even the slightest deviation from church teaching. With respect to church teaching on war, one must ask, is there any evil evil enough to compel the church to take its own teachings seriously and reconsider its institutional affiliation with the U.S. military?
How many unjust wars must the United States fight before it qualifies as constitutively unjust–before injustice issues forth not as a failure but as a character flaw? Without denying the good that U.S. soldiers have done, I wonder, can the Catholic church continue to align its corporate body with an institution that violates its teachings so consistently?