A senior Irish Catholic priest has said that the 1916 Easter Rising did not meet the long-established Christian tests for a ‘just war’ and was closer to pagan thought than to Christianity.
Fr Seamus Murphy, a Jesuit priest and a philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago. argued that the rebellion “passes none of the ‘just war’ criteria ... it had a pagan love of war and blood-sacrifice, and it attacked important political common goods”.
Fr Murphy, an expert in Catholic ethics and the circumstances in which armed force is necessary, made the comments in an article for The Irish Catholic newspaper.
The all-island religious newspaper has published a special edition examining the 1916 Rising from a range of Catholic perspectives.
Fr Murphy said that those involved in the uprising had broken a key principle necessary to establish whether any war was a morally defensible last resort – that civilians must not be targeted or knowingly endangered.
He said: “On the first day of the Rising, the Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army (ICA) members deliberately killed some civilians and unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police constables ... there were far more civilian (260) than rebel (82) or combined military and police (142) deaths, and responsibility for their deaths lies primarily with the leaders of the Rising.”
He said that the leaders of the Rising also disregarded a central rule in the theory of just war by starting a conflict where they had no hope of success and by doing so with no mandate – such as that enjoyed by the democratically elected Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).
“With no authority, the Rising’s leaders declared a republic, nominated themselves as its government, and shot anybody in their way.
“As is clear from what Pearse, Connolly and Clarke stated at the time, democratic elections were beneath them. They believed that the people did not want an independent republic: they were determined to start a chain of events that would, by political emotional blackmail, compel the Irish people to ‘want’ it.”
Fr Murphy said that the Rising also lacked the just cause which would necessitate the taking up of arms, such as an invasion or genocide threatening civilians.
Referring to the belief of the rebel leaders that “blood-sacrifice” was necessary “for revitalising the soul of the Irish, corrupted by messy democratic ‘politics’”, Fr Murphy said: “Does it need to be argued that such thinking is morally sick?
“As in Northern Ireland recently Sinn Féin’s political target was the SDLP, so the IPP and Home Rule was the Rising’s target ... in the Rising the unelected gunmen defeated the elected representatives.”
Enniskillen priest: PIRA pursued justice
Enniskillen priest Fr Joe McVeigh, who wrote an article in the Irish Catholic arguing that the 1916 Rising was a just war, compared it to the Provisional IRA campaign.
He wrote: “Looking back on  now, I believe it was a courageous act of defiance that was justified in the circumstances ... I too have lived under a tyranny and understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of British military repression, humiliation and discrimination. I understand why many young people like the present Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, were prepared to take up arms and risk their lives in pursuit of justice and freedom.”