Russia’s Catholic bishops issued a statement last week detailing the Church’s teaching on war, following the Russian Federation’s partial mobilization on September 21.
Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, reports that the Catholic Bishops‘ Conference published the message on Wednesday, September 28, expressing their “willingness to follow the teaching of the Church, according to the Gospel and the tradition of the ancient Church: war has never been and will not be a means of solving problems between nations”.
They cite Pius XII’s call during World War II: “Nothing is lost with peace, everything is lost with war.
“The harsh confrontation in Ukraine,” the statement said, “has degenerated into a full-scale military conflict which has already caused thousands of casualties, undermined trust and unity between countries and peoples and threatens the existence of the whole world”.
The statement, signed by the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Mother of God in Moscow, Paolo Pezzi, refers to the Pope’s statement to Kazakhstan – “Let’s not get used to war, let’s not resign ourselves to the inevitable.”
The bishops recognize that governments can resort to military action, but specify: “What has been said is true if the military action aims to end the conflict as soon as possible and to avoid the multiplication of victims”.
Agenzia Fides reported that the statement refers to the section of article five of the Catechism which recognizes recourse to war as a legitimate form of defense, but underlines that decisions on participation must be the prerogative of the individual consciousness. They also note the protection in the constitution of the Russian Federation of those who oppose arms for religious or conscientious reasons.
The statement provides guidance to Russia’s roughly 240,000 Catholics, who make up 0.2% of its population, amid the country’s chaotic mobilization of 300,000 reservists to support the faltering invasion of Ukraine. The Russian government has insisted it will only call up those with military experience, but reports suggest many conscripts have no training or are past retirement age.
Large numbers of young Russians are leaving the country to escape conscription, with commentators and officials suggesting conscientious objection amounts to desertion. Hundreds of people have been arrested during protests against the project.
The Russian bishops reaffirm the imperative of conscience for all Catholics and the absolute prohibition of the military participation of religious. Agenzia Fides reports that this follows the attempt to enlist several Russian Orthodox priests.
The statement calls on all Catholics in Russia to pray and fast for peace, and asks priests to celebrate Masses for this intention.