The response of Catholic moral theologians to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been universally negative.

“The war in Ukraine is a spiritual, human and ecological catastrophe,” said Eli S. McCarthy, a peace activist at Georgetown University’s Justice and Peace Studies, in a recent email to me.

The view is shared by Catholic pacifists as well as followers of the just war theory. There is no justification for the invasion, they agree. The fighting should stop, and the Russian troops should go home.

Where Catholic moralists begin to disagree is on what means are appropriate in responding to the invasion.

Peace advocates like McCarthy believe that a violent response will make matters worse. He bemoans the fact that “we have failed to adequately train people in nonviolent conflict, resistance and civilian-based defense.”

But he does see signs of hope. He wrote:

A variety of creative, courageous, nonviolent ways of resistance are being activated and could be scaled up by Ukrainians and others: blocking convoys and tanks … fraternization of Russian soldiers to lower morale and stimulate defections, humanitarian assistance and caring for refugees, evacuations, outpouring of public statements by key political leaders, reducing the flow of money to the aggressor (ex. via banks, media, trade, fossil fuels, etc.), supporting the anti-war protesters in Russia, disrupting the technology systems of the aggressor, interrupting disinformation, coalition building, activating key civil society leaders (ex. religious, athletes, business), ex. 100,000 Russians from a variety of sectors have signed petitions to end the war, Russians close to the military and foreign ministry, in the Russian oil industry and billionaires, have spoken out against the war.


….But pacifists aren’t the only ones questioning an armed response to the Russian invasion. The just war theory has never supported fighting a war, even a defensive war, if there is no chance of winning.

“Given the vastly greater strength of the Russian military, it seems inevitable that Russia will eventually take military control of Ukraine,” argued John Sniegocki, director of Peace and Justice Studies at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

“The use of violence may slightly delay the Russian takeover,” he added, “but it will not prevent it. It will cost many lives in the process, both the lives of Ukrainians who could have potentially played major roles in subsequent mass nonviolent civil resistance and the lives of Russian soldiers, most of whom are conscripts, don’t want to be there and are themselves victims of this unjust situation.”

Arming civilians in a fight to the death, just war advocates agreed, can’t be justified morally, as many will die without much hope of success.

“I think the alternative of civilian defense/resistance, combined with serious economic sanctions, needs to be considered as a realistic, ethical option,” said Ron Pagnucco, a self-proclaimed just war advocate and professor of peace studies at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota. “Costs can be imposed by nonviolent means, making Russian rule difficult.”

….David DeCosse of Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics is “moved by the examples of non-violence happening now in Ukraine and persuaded by the wisdom and promise of the just peace framework.”

But DeCosse hesitates to say “how far we take the assumption that violence breeds more violence.” He thinks “that is usually the case. But I wonder, too, if there are some situations in which the only way out of the cycle of the violence is violence for the sake of justice….”

The above comes from a March 7 story by Thomas Reese on the site of Religious News Service.