I’m jumping to the end of the encyclical because I’m sure everyone is tired of me, IF you’ve been keeping up! But there is much that is the core, at the end, to which the document has been building up. It has to do with legitimate conflict and forgiveness.
Pope Francis recognizes that mercy and forgiveness do not eliminate the need for justice and retribution—so long as it is not revenge: “If a criminal has harmed me or a loved one, no one can forbid me from demanding justice and ensuring that this person—or anyone else—will not harm me, or others, again. …forgiveness does not forbid [this] but actually demands it” (#241). As a Biblical description of this, I recommend you to read Psalm 99.
The Holy Father is also strong on insisting we never forget—“The Shoah must never be forgotten” (#247). The nuclear bombings of WWII must not be forgotten (#248). But he insists we must reject revenge, and he is convinced that two solutions to “justice” are false answers which must be rejected: the death penalty and war (#255). This is the case when the primary desires of those advocating these “solutions” are motivated by revenge.
Instead, Pope Francis envisions a global community as he has been describing it throughout the document—based on social friendship, understanding, dialogue, justice, and mercy. This is especially true with regard to capital punishment— “Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide” (#263).
It is harder to come to a universal condemnation of war under any and all circumstances. Should other nations have stood by watching as Jews (and others) were systematically exterminated? On this one point alone, WWII came perhaps closest to satisfying the Just War criterion of “just cause.”
How then to resolve conflicts? This is the problematic in Pope Francis’ vision (and that of everyone else who has dreamed of world peace). Back in ##172-174, he embraced the idea of a United Nations that had “teeth”—“equipped with the power to provide for the global common good… to avoid the ‘temptation to appeal to the law of force rather than to the force of law.’”
But what happens when disagreeing parties refuse to acknowledge this authority? I am once again (it’s my ‘glass half-empty’ syndrome) forced to turn to Lord of the Flies, in a conflict of authority between law (Ralph and Piggy, symbolized by a conch shell) and power/violence (Jack and Roger, symbolized by spears and hunting). Here is the fundamental confrontation:
“The rules!” shouted Ralph. “You’re breaking the rules!” “Who cares?” Ralph summoned his wits. “Because the rules are the only thing we’ve got!” But Jack was shouting against him. “Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong—we hunt!”
How do we solve this dilemma? The only way, Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb believe is the way of working to establish a global society of social friendship—something that will surely not happen in our own lifetimes, but which will never happen at all if we do not start to work for the goal now. Lesson #1—when I see you, I must strive to see a “brother (or sister),” and not an “other.” Day by day, one person at a time, we make progress in establishing universal fellowship, and after all, that is the goal and meaning of a catholic world-view: “A journey of peace is possible between religions. Its point of departure must be God’s way of seeing things. ‘God does not see with his eyes, God sees with his heart. And God’s love is the same for everyone, regardless of religion. …When the last day comes, and there is sufficient light to see things as they really are, we are going to find ourselves quite surprised’” (#281). And I personally am convinced that those surprises will be joyful.