The Jesuit General has accused the United States and France of an "abuse of power", in considering military action in Syria and says the Jesuits fully support Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting in support of peace this Saturday.
While he says he would not normally comment on international or political situations, Father General Adolfo Nicolás SJ says the current circumstances mean he cannot keep silent, stating: "I cannot understand who gave the United States or France the right to act against a country in a way that will certainly increase the suffering of the citizens of that country, who, by the way, have already suffered beyond measure."
Fr Nicolás outlines three fundamental problems. Firstly, an abuse of power which, he says, would be like "the big boy of the neighbourhood" abusing, harassing and bullying the weaker members of the community. Secondly, he expresses concern about the lack of concrete information about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And he highlights in particular the impact that any military action by the US and France would have upon "the ordinary innocent and poor people" of Syria.
The Jesuit General says "the danger is now" and he echoes the Holy Father's call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace on 7 September. The full text of the extraordinary interview with him is given below.
Q. The Holy Father has gone out of the way to speak for Peace in Syria, which is now under threat of a new attack by the United States and France. What do you think in this regard?
R. It is not customary for me to make comments on situations that have to do with international or political situations. But in the present case we are dealing with a Humanitarian situation that exceeds all the limits that would ordinarily keep me silent. I have to confess that I cannot understand who gave the United States or France the right to act against a Country in a way that will certainly increase the suffering of the citizens of that country, who, by the way, have already suffered beyond measure. Violence and violent action, like what is being planned, have to always be the last resort and administered in such a way that only the guilty are affected. In the case of a Country this is evidently impossible to control and, thus, it seems to me totally unjustified. We, Jesuits, support 100% the Holy Father and wish with all our hearts that the threatened attack on Syria does not take place.
Q. But, hasn´t the world a responsibility to do something against those who abuse power against their own people, like a Government using chemical weapons in a conflict?
R. We have right here three different problems that it is important to state clearly. The first is that all abuse of power is to be condemned and rejected. And, with all respect for the people of the United States, I think that a military intervention like the one being planned is itself an abuse of power. The US has to stop acting and reacting like the big boy of the neighborhood of the world. This leads inevitably to abuse, harassment and bullying of the weaker members of the community.
The second is that if there has been use of chemical weapons we still have to probe in a way that is clear to the whole world that one party in the conflict and not the other has used them. It is not enough that some members of the punishing Government make a statement of conviction. They have to convince the world, so that the world can trust in them. This confidence does not happen today, and many have already started speculation about the ulterior motives that the USA may have in the projected intervention.
And the third, that the means considered adequate to punish the abuse do not harm the very victims of the original abuse, once it has been proved to exist. Past experience teaches us that this is practically impossible (even if we call the victims "collateral damage") and the results increase the suffering of the ordinary innocent and poor people. We all know that the great concern of the Wise Elders and Religious Founders of all traditions and cultures was "how to reduce human suffering?" It is very worrying that in the name of justice we plan an attack that will increase the suffering of the victims.
Q. Aren´t you particularly harsh on the United States?
R. I do not think so. I have no prejudice regarding this great Country and I have a few American Jesuits working with me whose opinions and services I value very highly. I have never entertained any negative feelings against the United States, a Country that I admire on many counts, including commitment, spirituality and thought. What disturbs me most now is that precisely this country I respect so much is at the point of doing such a terrible mistake. And something similar goes for France. A Country that has been a real leader in esprit, intelligence, and that has made gigantic contributions to Civility and Culture is now tempted to bring us back to barbarism, in open contradiction of what France has been a symbol of for many past generations: That two such Countries would come together for such an outrageous measure is part of the world´s anger. We are not afraid of the attack; we are afraid of the barbarism to which we are being lead
Q. But why speak out now?
R. Because the danger is now. Because the Holy Father has taken a measure that is extraordinary to indicate the urgency of the moment. To indicate that the 7th of September is a day of Fasting for the sake of Peace is an extraordinary measure and we want to join him in it. Remember that at one point in the Gospel, when the disciples of Jesus could not liberate a young man from an evil spirit, Jesus told them: "This kind of spirits cannot be driven away if not by prayer and fasting" I find it extremely upsetting that a Country that considers itself, at least nominally, Christian, could not imagine other ways of acting that would not be "military", and, instead, contribute to bring Humanity back to the law of the jungle.