Given the complicated nature of today’s geopolitical crisis, I figured these brief comments by Pope Francis on the current USA bombings in Iraq provides some basic criteria that allow us to consider the situation in Iraq and similar ones around the world.

What measure of weight should we give to the Pope’s opinion on such matters?

In responding, the Holy Father maintains a healthy humility in his comments. He doesn’t pronounce himself explicitly with regards to the concrete event mentioned (USA bombings) and gives criteria concrete enough to be relevant and broad enough to remain within the bounds of his office. That said, we must be wary to reduce his opinion on such matters to merely a pious or religious one.

I fear that many people, Catholics included, fail to give the Holy Father’s opinion on such matters adequate weight. He may not have the CIA or Mossad at his service, yet the the number of sources of information to which he has access to is, I believe, hard of for us to comprehend. Think of the parish priests, the religious orders, the faithful lay, each one reporting to their bishop and nuncios. Let us not forget, the Church was one of the founders and continues to be one of the most efficient social global networks. Thus, I highly recommend that when forming our opinion on such matters (many times the word of mouth is worth infinitely more than any satellite image can offer), that we lend a open and attentive ear to our Holy Father, recognizing both his spiritual authority, as well as the surety of a high-informed opinion on matters. This, of course, does not mean that we must agree with him on such issues; only that we should rank him very high up on our list of consultants.

The following is a Vatican approved translation of the exchange:

Q. You know that recently the US forces have started bombing the terrorists in Iraq, to prevent a genocide, to protect minorities, including Catholics who are under your guidance. My question is this: do you approve the American bombing?

A. Thanks for such a clear question. In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say this: it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underline the verb: stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means. With what means can they be stopped? These have to be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit.

But we must also have memory. How many times under this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor the powers (that intervened) have taken control of peoples, and have made a true war of conquest.

One nation alone cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War there was the idea of the United Nations. It is there that this should be discussed. Is there an unjust aggressor? It would seem there is. How do we stop him? Only that, nothing more.

Secondly (you mentioned the minorities. Thanks for that word because they talk to me about the Christians, the poor Christians. It’s true, they suffer. The martyrs, there are many martyrs. But here there are men and women, religious minorities, not all of them Christian, and they are all equal before God.

To stop the unjust aggressor is a right that humanity has, but it is also a right that the aggressor has to be stopped so that he does not do evil.