Suppose President Obama expressed disapproval with the Vatican’s method of electing the Pope. It’s not democratic enough, the president says. Why should a small group of Catholic cardinals be the only voters? Why shouldn’t all Catholics get to vote for the Pope? Isn’t that what democracy is all about?
Obama demands that the Vatican open the vote to all Catholics. The Vatican responds that its method of electing the Pope is none of the U.S. government’s business. Butt out, the Pope tells Obama.
Obama orders a U.S. invasion of Vatican City, with the express aim of spreading democracy to that part of the world. The troops are ordered to mobilize and prepare for the invasion.
The Vatican condemns the coming war of aggression, pointing out that it violates the UN Charter and the principles set forth at Nuremberg. He also points out that such an invasion would violate the U.S. Constitution since the president has failed to secure the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war against the Vatican. Most important of all, the Pope points out that the killing of citizens by U.S. soldiers will constitute grave, mortal sins under God’s laws.
The president is not dissuaded. He orders the troops to undertake the invasion, reminding them that people everywhere, especially Catholics, will be grateful for their efforts to spread democracy.
For his part, the Pope orders all citizens of Vatican City, including bishops, priests, and nuns to take up arms to defend against the U.S. invasion.
How would Catholic soldiers react? Would they suffer a crisis of conscience or at least a bit of discomfort over the prospect of having to kill other Catholics, including bishops, priests, nuns, and possibly even the Pope?
Well, it really wouldn’t matter how they would react. Under U.S. military dictates, Catholic soldiers would be expected to follow orders and do their duty. Conscientious-objector status would be out of the question, since the military does not recognize such a status on a war-by-war basis. Soldiers would be counseled by military chaplains, including Catholic priests, that they could in good conscience trust the judgment of their commander in chief. God would understand and approve, the chaplains would tell their men. America is an exceptional nation.
The invasion begins. Interventionists announce that the time for debate is over and that all patriots must now come together and rally to the flag. “Support the troops” stickers immediately appear on people’s cars. Church ministers all across the land exhort their parishioners to pray for the troops, especially those in harm’s way and defending our freedoms. American flags are prominently posted in church altars.
After thousands of deaths and injuries, the U.S. government prevails in the conflict, and Americans celebrate the victory. Democracy is brought to the Vatican. Catholics everywhere now get to vote for the Pope. To ensure that democracy remains, U.S. troops continue to occupy the country, periodically killing insurgent bishops, priests, and nuns who continue to resist the occupation. Obama is hailed as an historic democracy-spreader and is nominated to receive another Nobel Peace Prize.
Meanwhile, American soldiers, especially the Catholic ones, are returning home all screwed up in the head, beating their wives and children, committing murder and suicide, and engaging in other forms of aberrant behavior. Most everyone attributes it to the stress of combat. Hardly anyone considers the possibility that the soldiers might be struggling with having chosen to surrender their consciences by following military orders that violated the laws of God.