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Roman Catholic teaching holds both that wars must conform to certain criteria in order to be considered morally justifiable, and that individuals are accountable for the moral content of their actions. Are Catholics serving in the armed forces therefore required to refuse to serve in unjust wars? Are they entitled—or obligated—to defer to the judgments of others as to whether a war is just? If so, whose judgment? I suggest that there are exceptional characteristics of military service that may factor in the formation of conscience as it is described in Catholic teaching. Specifically, just as the Church sees the indispensable role of the armed forces in protecting society as reconciling the use of force with the Catholic injunction to seek peace, so too may the indispensable role of obedience and deference to authority in the armed forces—while never supplanting the responsibilities of individual discernment—reconcile fighting in an unjust war with the obligations of conscience.
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Keywords: Catholic teaching; Iraq War; conscientious objection; just war; military ethics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: College of the Holy Cross

Publication date: 2007-09-01

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