Prof. Brian Johnstone CSsRDisturbing ethical issues continue to surface about the justification and conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a leading Australian moral theologian.

Professor Brian Johnstone, a Redemptorist priest visiting his home city of Melbourne, was speaking at a forum on the war in Iraq organised by Social Policy Connections at Yarra Theological Union on 23 July 2009.

Fr Johnstone summarised the opposition to the war by church authorities in all major churches, and particularly by Pope John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger. Fr Johnstone said that it was now clear that the reasons given for the war were spurious, and that the war had also been prosecuted in an unjust way, especially in the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure such as sanitation treatment works, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

He continued that the invading countries, including Australia, incurred serious ongoing moral obligations to help rebuild Iraq and restore order and security.

He said that historically ‘just war’ theory had often been used to rationalise the interests of rulers, but in recent times it was being recast to fit the new situations, limiting war far more tightly than in the past. This required a new system of international governance to curtail warfare. He said this explained why the Catholic Church so strongly supported the United Nations as the foundation for a renewed system of governance. Fr Johnstone said Pope Benedict saw the United Nations as a necessary step beyond tribalism, as part of securing peace in a “commitment to the whole human family”.

Fr Johnstone was particularly critical of the use of drones in the Middle East. Because of faulty or inadequate intelligence, operators in another continent, it appears, were often killing innocent people, including women and children.
This was Fr Johnstone’s first public engagement in Australia in over ten years. He lectured at YTU until the 1980s, and then took up positions at the Catholic University of America in Washington and at the Alphonsian Moral Academy in Rome. For the last three years, he has been back at the Catholic University of America, where he currently specialises in bioethics, moral theology and the Philosophy of the Gift.

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