Although it is listed in the 2008 Catholic Directory, and calls itself 'Pax Christi: International Catholic Movement for Peace', it does not actaully describe itself as Catholic. Rather:
Pax Christi, Peace of Christ, is a gospel-based lay-inspired, peacemaking movement. Founded in the Catholic Church, its membership is open to individuals, groups and organisations of all faiths who are in sympathy with its aims and values. It is affiliated to Pax Christi International. (here) - or alternatively Pax Christi is an international Christian peacemaking movement, based on the gospel and inspired by faith. (here)
Pax Christi remains an active part of the anti-nuclear weapons campain (there is a link to the CND on its website), and has also become closely involved with the 'anti-war movement' created by the Iraq war.
There is very little talk on Pax Christi's excruciatingly badly-designed website about the doctrine of the 'just war', except that it needs to be 'updated'; rather, the central idea of Pax Christi appears to be that all war (and capital punishment) is wrong. Again and again we find this view quoted with approval, although it is not set up as the organisation's official position. The home page includes a power-point presentation entitled 'Peace begins with disarmament'. The Greenham Common women are quoted as saying that 'There has never been a just war' (pdf); a discussion of a Northern Ireland peace campaigner (pdf) reflects that
A 2004 Newsletter (pdf) writer tells us that
This is all, however, contrary to the constant teaching of the Church, which is that self defence, defence of others, and war (and capital punishment) are in certain situations not only legitimate but on occasion obligatory. There are occasions when injustice can only be effectively opposed by violence, and on those occasions we do not turn our backs on those suffering injustice. The Bible contains many passages in which God endorses war, in the Old Testament; Our Lord does not regard the military profession as intrinsically immoral (Luke 3.14); St Paul reiterates the right of the state to kill (Romans 13.4); and the Catechism of the Catholic Church reiterates the 'Just War' doctrine (2309). Opposing a particular war is naturally legitimate for a Catholic, on the basis of a moral and political judgment, but it is wrong to rule out all war: to do so would be to condemn all the Catholics who have fought in wars, some of whom have been canonised: for example, the crusader king St Louis of France, St Joan of Arc, who opposed the English occupation of France, and St Ladislas of Hungary, who defended his country on the battlefield and was chosen to be commander in chief of the First Crusade.
As a glance at its photo gallery makes clear, Pax Christi is a political campaigning organisation. It appears at rallies against nuclear weapons, the war in Iraq, and Israeli actions in Palestine. There is nothing illegitimage about political campaigning, but not only is the pacifistic tenor of the campaign is contrary to Catholic teaching, but such political questions as the legitimacy of the continuing occupation of Iraq are matters of legitimate disagreement for Catholics, and the Bishops of England and Wales have no business endorsing such an organisation by listing it in the Catholic Directory, let alone funding it through donations made on 'Peace Sunday'. These donations provided nearly £80,000 for their work in 2006 (out of a total income of £189,000) (pdf); the sum has grown considerably over recent years. (The next 'Peace Sunday' will be on January 19th 2009).
The fate of its one-time chaplain, Bruce Kent, is instructive: ordered by Cardinal Hume to keep out of politics, he left the priesthood. Politics had become more important to him than the priesthood. Lay Catholics may and indeed should take an interest in political matters, but they should not attempt to portray their political views as those of the Church, nor forget about the supernatural human vocation, and the importance of helping others to achieve it.
Pax Christi's stance brings it into contact with some extremely un-Catholic organisations. Its links page is full of militant hard-left, anti-war and pacifist groups, most of whom are opposed to the Church's teaching on sexuality and the family.
Pax Christi is part of a network of dissident groups focused on so-called issues of 'justice and peace'. It is friendly to liberation theology, condemned in the 1980s by the Vatican, and links to Progressio. Pax Christi is well received by militant feminists, and gets good coverage in the 'Catholic Omnibus' (see our post here), the free newspaper run by the dissident feminists in charge of the National Board of Catholic Women. They are linked to by Progressio, Catholics for a Changing Church and a host of other dissenting groups.
Progressio and the feminists reject the Church's teaching on contraception and abortion, as set out in our dossiers on those groups (Progressio; Women Word Spirit). Pax Christi's role is a little more subtle. Throughout the Church, at parish and diocesan levels and at the Bishops' Conference, there are committees producing action plans for issues of 'Justice and Peace', in which Pax Christi plays an important part. Justice and peace are important aims for Catholics, but these groups are concerned with only a narrow set of issues, which are given a very specific political interpretation. The issues are poverty (in the UK and in the developing world), war and nuclear weapons, and perhaps green issues, and the approach to them is invariably left-leaning - generally supportive of the Labour party and government, criticising them only from the left. The practical and political impact of these committees is nugatory; their importance is as a distraction from the proclamation of the teaching of the Church on salvation, and political involvement on 'life' issues (abortion, euthanasia, stell cells etc.), and the family.
Thus the 'Justice and Peace' agenda is a continuation of the error of liberation theology, that the Church's main focus should be on the advancement of living standards rather than on the salvation of human souls. Furthermore, it is a deliberate displacement of political concern from issues on which the Church has teachings which require no controversial political judgments to apply to practical situations, namely on the life and family issues. The 'Justice and Peace' agenda gives the bishops and their lay hangers-on the feeling that they are deeply concerned and active on the important issues of the day, without straying from the comfort-zone of a Guardian-reader.
On the life and family issues, by contrast, bishops and Catholic intellectuals cannot bask in the glow of any left-leaning consensus. But there is no justice or peace while millions of babies are killed in the womb, the elderly are starved to death in hospital, and the family is undermined in every possible way by government policy.
Just as the political judgments made by Pax Christi are not 'Catholic', so neither are the contrary political judgments. It is important not to fall into the error of opposing left-leaning politics in the Church with right-leaning politics. The problem within the Church, for Catholics as Catholics, is that Pax Christi is distorting Catholic teaching on war, and is presenting personal political views as somehow made necessary by Catholic teaching, when this is not the case.
They are doing this with money donated in good faith by Catholics who do not necessarily endorse these views: but even if they did, they should not be contributing to them at the back of church on a specially dedicated Sunday.
They are doing it in schools, with specially produced information packs, claiming to present a 'Catholic' view.
And they are doing it to the exclusion of the real political issues which Catholics as Catholics should be concerned about, the issues surrounding life and the family.
Pax Christi should be excluded from Catholic schools; parishes should refuse to give them space to spread their propaganda, and ask for money. They should be exposed as not even claiming to be a Catholic organisation.