ROME – After the Justice and Peace Commission of the Holy Land recently put out a new document condemning what it said was the weaponization of the term “just war” in the Gaza conflict, the Vatican’s Secretary of State has said the concept is being revisited.

Asked about the document, Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin said, “We know that on the question of just war, there is a lot of discussion today, because this was a concept of social doctrine.”

“There is just war, the war of defense, but today with the weapons that are available, this concept becomes very difficult” he said, saying, “In fact, it’s being discussed. I don’t think there is a definitive position yet, but it’s a concept that’s in revision.”

In terms of the current war in Gaza, sparked after Israel retaliated for an Oct. 7, 2023, surprise attack by Hamas that killed 1,200 people and which so far has claimed over 30,000 Palestinian lives, Parolin said, “It’s never a just war, in this sense.”

“A just war can only be spoken of in the context of defense, the case of a war of defense,” he said.

The document from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Holy Land, published earlier this week, argues that the so-called Just War Theory in Catholic social doctrine “is being used in a way in which it was never intended: to justify the death of tens of thousands.”

“We cannot allow words like ‘just’ to be mobilized to justify what is unjust, cruel and devastating. We must argue for the integrity of language, because we remain convinced that true justice is still possible if we can hold fast to its promise,” the document said.

Regarding the ongoing Gaza war, the document said that “neither the attacks by Hamas nor Israel’s devastating war in response satisfy the criteria for ‘just war’ according to Catholic Doctrine,” and that “the manipulation of the language of just war theory is not only about words: it is having tangible, fatal results.”

The document called the application of just war theory to modern conflicts, especially those that have dragged on for decades, “dubious,” and suggested “that ‘just’ wars might only exist in very rare cases.”

Parolin, who spoke to journalists on the margins of a book presentation Monday, also weighed in on the current war in Ukraine, including renewed calls for a ceasefire by Hungarian Prime Minister and President of the Council of Europe Viktor Orbán.

“Until now, the Ukrainians have always refused to accept this proposal, it’s not that it’s a novelty with Orbán. Now he does it as president of the Council of the European Union, but this proposal of a ceasefire has been on the table for a long time,” Parolin said.

Orbán last Friday made an unannounced visit to Ukraine shortly after stepping on as president of the EU and held a private meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

A frequent critic of Western support for Ukraine and viewed as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Orbán in a statement after his meeting with Zelenskyy said he asked the Ukrainian president “to consider whether… a quick ceasefire could be used to speed up peace negotiations.”

Zelenskyy did not immediately respond, but later published a post on social media platform X, previously known as Twitter, saying Orbán’s visit to Ukraine was a “clear signal to all of us of the importance of unity in Europe and taking collective steps…We discussed the path to a just, lasting, and fair peace.”

Parolin in his remarks noted that Ukraine has “always been very reluctant” to accept a ceasefire proposal, “because they’ve said that unless there are guarantees, this could only be a pause in order to start again in a stronger, more cruel way.”

“We hope that there can really be a ceasefire and then negotiations, this is our hope,” he said.

He also lauded a recent prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, which saw the release of two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests arrested in November 2022, that the Vatican helped to negotiate.

Calling the collaboration over prisoner exchanges “a mechanism that works,” Parolin voiced his belief that the Vatican’s role in this could potentially open the door to other initiatives.

“I imagine this activity will continue. I think it’s a very positive activity and it can create conditions that could favor peace and eventual negotiations,” he said, but noted that the prisoner exchange is different from the Vatican’s attempt to help facilitate the return of Ukrainian children forcibly sent to Russia.

This is an area in which Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference has been working in coordination with Russian, Ukrainian, American, and Chinese officials for the past year.

Speaking of his recent visit to Lebanon, Parolin addressed the ongoing national crisis as well as Hezbollah’s ongoing engagement with Israeli forces amid the war in Gaza.

In terms of Lebanon’s political crisis, as the country has been without a president since Michel Aoun’s term ended in October 2022, Parolin said the first step in finding a solution “is the election of the President of the Republic.”

Everyone has said it: what is immediately apparent is the importance, the urgency, of having a president,” he said, voicing his belief that securing the Christian presence and role in the Lebanese system is key to ending the country’s “institutional crisis.”

While the election of a president will not be “a magic solution,” Parolin said “the problems will begin to be faced, with all of the institutional leaders in their place.”

He praised the efforts of Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Cardinal Boutros Al-Rai, saying, “he has always tried to unite Christians, and from what I’ve seen, there is a desire on the part of the Christian parties to unite themselves in promoting more candidates that are common, that are commonly accepted.”

Parolin said dialogue with the Shia community in Lebanon is ongoing, but “the problem now is the part of Hezbollah,” Lebanon’s Shia Islamist political party and militant group, which has been engaging Israeli military since Oct. 8, 2023, amid Israel’s armed response to the Hamas attack a day before.

Hezbollah “are in play, and they have a candidate, so it involves finding a candidate that is accepted by all parties” as the search for a president continues, Parolin said.

Referring to the July 3-7 Social Week happening in Trieste, which occurs every few years and is dedicated to promoting democracy and the church’s social agenda, and which Pope Francis will formally close with Mass on the final day, Parolin said it is an opportunity to strengthen democracy.

“It’s a topic of pressing current interest because, as we know, democracy is in crisis in many parts of the world,” he said, saying, “it is up to Catholics to reiterate the importance, reiterate the need to be in favor of democracy and above all, to me this is important, to fill it with values.”

Democracy, he said, “is not simply a mathematical exercise, who has more or less, but it’s above all an exercise in values, letting oneself be inspired by great values that make social coexistence possible.”

“So, I think the contribution that Catholics can bring in this area is very valid. I hope that something good comes from this social week,” he said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen