The following is a guest post from Eli McCarthy, who is an adjunct professor of Justice and Peace Studies at Georgetown University.

What an amazing experience with so many amazing, courageous, creative, and audacious nonviolent peacemakers! The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Union of Superior Generals/International Union of Superior Generals, Columbans, Jesuits, Maryknoll, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Pace Bene, Pax Christi International, and representatives from around the world were all part of planning this wonderful conference focused on Nonviolence and Just Peace. We had four sessions using a fishbowl type circle process with lead reflectors and open center seats for anyone to offer ideas, as well as follow up small groups to elicit fuller participation of all.

We encountered Catholic leaders who negotiated with very violent armed actors in Uganda, i.e. an Archbishop with the Lord’s Resistance Army, and in Colombia, i.e. a Jesuit with FARC and the paramilitaries; as well as an Iraqi nun calling to stop the militarization of her country, stop bombing, and to rely on nonviolent strategies to transform the conflict. We also encountered a Bishop in South Sudan who created a peace village and has earned the trust of all the armed actors. We heard of peace education across all the schools in the Philippines. We heard of trauma-healing programs in Kenya. That only begins to touch the surface.

Pope Francis also wrote us a letter to start the conference. Cardinal Turkson spoke at the beginning and offered ideas during the consensus process. Here is the final statement of the conference approved by general consensus. Check out the press conference on Vatican Radio.

Some articles critiquing the conference have assumed that only pacifists attended, and thus, the process was of limited value. However, there were people with various perspectives at the conference, including some supporters of just war theory, armed policing and peacekeeping, nonviolent resistance, and those who identified as pacifists. What drew us together was our open-ness to deepening our understanding and commitment to Gospel nonviolence in the Catholic Church.

Yet, one thing surprised me and is instructive. Those living in violent conflict zones, mostly all in the global south, were all in support as far as I could tell of the Catholic Church focusing on nonviolence and just peace, and no longer using just war theory.

Another critique about the conference is the concern about our call to “no longer use or teach just war theory.” There are multiple reasons people supported this point at the conference. I want to share a bit about an alternative moral framework, i.e. just peace, that could be more faithful to Jesus and better accomplish the good intentions of some just war thinking, i.e. preventing and limiting war; even compared to “restrictive” versions utilizing “ante bellum” and “post bellum” constructs.

Just Peace is rooted in the biblical notion of Shalom: “justice and peace shall embrace;” it reminds us that peace requires justice-making, but also peacemaking is the way to justice. Jesus modeled this approach living under foreign military occupation. He also leans us toward justice understood as restorative justice, with a focus on the harm done to relationships and how to heal.

Just Peace is clearly unfolding in the trajectory of contemporary Pope’s teaching and statements. Francis has focused us on mercy; calls us to give up the way of arms; says war always does grave harm to the environment; and the door is always open to dialogue, even with ISIS. Just Peace is also being woven through ecumenical and interfaith collaborations. For example, the World Council of Churches’ called for turning to a Just Peace approach in 2011.

At the conference, we suggested the Catholic Church shift to a Just Peace approach consistent with Gospel nonviolence. A just peace approach offers a vision of Christ’s Shalom and an ethic to guide our actions to consistently build just peace, but also to prevent, defuse, and heal violent conflict.

As an ethic, it includes a commitment to human dignity and thriving relationships. It offers a set of core virtues to form our character and shape core practices, as well as to both orient and better apply a set of just peace criteria for specific actions. As a virtue approach, it goes beyond pacifism “understood as a rule against violence” by challenging us to become better people and societies in engaging conflict. Core virtues would include nonviolent peacemaking, mercy, solidarity, etc. Seven core practices of the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking have been articulated.

Some examples include: using an explicit Nonviolent Eucharistic Prayer; conflict transformation that sees conflict (but not violence) as an opportunity for growth and addresses root causes; unarmed civilian protection such as Nonviolent Peaceforce and Operation Dove– in South Sudan Nonviolent Peaceforce’s protection has reduced sexual assaults and rape from regularity to zero in the areas they patrol and directly saved 14 people from armed militia; and the practice of nonviolent civilian-based defense, such as the Philippines in 1986 to prevent an armed battle between their army and Czechoslavakia in 1968 against the Soviet Union’s invasion.

The seven just peace criteria proposed by Maryann Cusimano Love would guide our action choices and apply at all stages of conflict. In just peace, it is a key to recognize that the means are the seeds of the ends, so we must use means that reflect the ends we hope to accomplish, if we are to really fully reach such an end.

A Just Peace approach has been articulated by theologians on the issues of drones, nuclear weapons, ISIS, etc. For instance, on lethal drones, we ask the virtue question—“what kinds of people are we becoming?” This helps us see more clearly that lethal drones instill fear and anxiety in communities rather than build right relationships. We see that they mask root causes of conflict, so they perpetuate violence rather than sustainable peace. We see that they increase de-humanization by objectifying the other through a video-game mentality, damaging our capacity for empathy, and creating PTSD in drone operators. In contrast, a just war approach (even restrictive) and mentality often does not adequately assess this reality of habit formation and limits our view of possible just peace practices.

Thus, in order to adequately develop a just peace approach, the conference argued that we as the Catholic Church should no longer legitimate the “just war” language or appeal to the concept of justifiable war. Not only is it not the truth of Christ, but as we have already seen for 1700 years, such legitimation often does and will under-nourish and obstruct our just peace imagination and our will to embody just peace practices. That’s a reasonable amount of time to justify the Catholic Church considering another moral framework today, rather than continuing to refine the old one. One conference participant who lived in Croatia during the war said it well: “when I transcended the logic of violence, (e.g. just war theory) my mind and heart were opened to see what could really be done for peace.”

Maintaining the just war theory has too often obstructed our attention, imagination and will to commit to nonviolent practices, as Cardinal Turkson affirmed. Some examples of this obstruction include: a prominent Christian scholar of “just war” ethics refusing to learn about the emerging practice of unarmed civilian protection because they deemed it “not their area of expertise;” a major Catholic advocacy organization in Washington D.C. until this past year having no awareness of unarmed civilian protection, although the organized practice has been around for 25-30 years; how rarely Catholic leaders speak about or promote nonviolent resistance (esp. boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, etc.) to injustice and violence; and how little resistance is mounted by Catholic leaders to enormous military spending, primarily in countries with large militaries such as the U.S. A further example is how many articles responding to the conference focus on the small just war part of the statement with little attention or energy to the main call to develop nonviolent practices. These examples illustrate how maintaining the just war theory (even restrictive versions) in the church too often obstructs our attention, imagination, and even will to commit to more nonviolent conflict transformation.

In terms of governments, yes, they and the UN might still resort to violent force, but the appeal at the conference is for the Catholic Church to make the shift to deeper nonviolence and just peace, and away from using just war theory. International law and nation-states might still maintain the legal/moral use of just war norms in the near term. However, if the Catholic Church were to make this shift then it would be more consistent with Jesus’ way and will liberate us more for creative nonviolent practices that would better build just peace, prevent war, limit war, heal after war, and even draw society away from war sooner as we more effectively move to outlaw war.

When a large-scale lethal threat is near and grave, the Church—as the Body of Christ—should urgently draw on just peace analysis, advocacy, intervention, and healing before, during, and after such events. If governments or the U.N. decide for military action in such genuine atrocity cases, the Church’s role is less about condemning those persons who took such action. Instead, the Church’s role is to clearly name such a response of violent action as a tragedy, a failure on the way of just peace, as well as inconsistent with human dignity and a culture of human rights for all. The Church’s role is to keep a just peace approach front and center in all such cases and advocate, even in the midst of violence, for nonviolent actions that will transform the violence with just peace.

Both Vatican II (Pastoral Constitution, par. 81) and Pope Paul VI have called the Church to go further saying boldly it is “our clear duty to strain every muscle as we work for the time when all war can be completely outlawed.” In turn, the goal is to outlaw war, not to legitimate or refine the criteria of war.

Pope Paul VI also said that “the Church cannot accept violence, especially the force of arms.” More recently, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus, explicitly de-links the notion of war and justice calling us “to reject definitively the idea that justice can be sought through recourse to war.” Pope Francis has said there is “no justice in killing,” “faith and violence are incompatible, which means we should reject all violence,” and we should not “bomb or make war” on ISIS.

As Pope Francis proclaimed, “In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of peace is spoken.” Therefore, drawing on the recent Vatican conference I humbly suggest that the Catholic Church should embody Gospel nonviolence by articulating an explicit Just Peace approach with specific criteria, virtues, and practices to be more faithful to Jesus, better build just peace, better prevent violence, defuse ongoing violence, heal well after violence, draw society away from war sooner, and make a clearer commitment to CST’s call to outlaw war.

This post was edited after its original posting, at the request of the author. –Eds.