I had a conversation with Barona this morning and we discussed among other things the just war theory. We talked about the situation in the middle east and the application of the just war theory at the beginning of the Iraq conflict and in face of the refugee crisis we are seeing now. We also discussed the misinterpretations of the various media of papal pronouncements in this area. He made a point that it was in fact a theory. As is my custom in such cases, I went to the catechism to research this. This is what I found.
2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
The weakness of this doctrine over the centuries has always been this last sentence. The judgement of those who would plunge us into a war is suspect at the best of times. Who would trust the judgement of George Bush over that of Pope St. John Paul II when he told us unequivocally that the Iraq war was unjust? This was unheard of, that a reigning pontiff would pronounce upon the justness of a war before the first shot was fired. It also points to a serious attempt on the part of recent popes to rectify this enormous defect in the just war doctrine by pointing out precisely where the prudential judgement of those who would start a war is lacking.
This is the sense in which Pope Francis' recent remarks on the refugee crisis in Iraq ought to be understood. He is not making some grand change in Catholic doctrine as some pundits would have it. Nothing has changed in the doctrine as stated in the catechism. However, Pope Francis is taking seriously his responsibility to point out those situations where the judgement of those who would engage in war is made suspect by vested interests, ideology and moral blindness.
2246 It is a part of the Church's mission "to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it. The means, the only means, she may use are those which are in accord with the Gospel and the welfare of all men according to the diversity of times and circumstances."
So it would seem that the just war doctrine is to be believed by the faithful as is the right and duty of the pope to pass moral judgement over the kings of men in the application of that doctrine.