The Vatican’s most senior diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva has endorsed the use of military force to stop the so-called Islamic State (IS), which is committing atrocities against Christians and other minorities.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said that if a political solution cannot be found then the use of force will be necessary.
“We have to stop this kind of genocide,” Archbishop Tomasi said in an interview with the Catholic news website Crux. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t so something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen,” he said.
He added that Christians and minorities in the Middle East targeted by IS needed “more co-ordinated protection, including the use of force to stop the hands of an aggressor” and that “some responsibility [to act] is clear.”
The archbishop stressed, however, that any action should be supported and led by the UN, and must involve countries from the Middle East.
This support by the Holy See for the use of force is unusual. The Vatican has opposed recent military interventions in the Middle East.
Last year, however, Pope Francis said it is “licit to stop the unjust aggressor” when asked about United States’ military action against IS.
Archbishop Tomasi appears to be locating the call for military action within the Just War tradition (formulated by Sts Augustine and Thomas Aquinas) that puts forward moral criteria for the use of force. These include that war be the last resort, undertaken by the proper authority and that bringing about peace is the aim.
The archbishop’s comments on military force came on the same day he presented a statement “Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, particularly in the Middle East” co-authored with Russia and Lebanon to the UN in Geneva.
The statement drew 70 signatories including the United Kingdom, United States and France. Archbishop Tomasi said it was the first time the plight of persecuted Christians had been addressed at the UN in this way.
“We are not fighting for Christians simply because they’re Christians,” he said. “We start from the foundation that they are human beings with equal rights.”
IS, which is made up of radical Sunni extremists, is believed to have slaughtered Christians and other minorities with impunity and displaced thousands of non-Muslims in its attempts to establish a “caliphate”.
Last month the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said he would accept UN-led military intervention in Libya, after Islamic State (IS) jihadists beheaded 21 Coptic Christians there.