US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A Catholic defense strategy?

Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I was only half paying attention to an interview with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on the radio this morning when he said something that piqued my interest: that his work is seriously influenced by his Catholic faith.

Panetta, who headed the CIA before recently taking the reins of the defense department, dropped the reference to his faith when discussing his role in the war on terror. He's credited with leading the effort that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, and his work was focused on taking out al-Qaida operatives.

But without being prompted, Panetta stated bluntly that the job wasn't easy because of his Catholic beliefs. Here's what he had to say:

"I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was getting calls in the middle of the night dealing with operations that involved life and death — that was significant for me and you know as someone who was raised as a Catholic and is faithful to my religion, I take those decisions not very lightly and so, those were not only do you have to make a decision — go no go — but then those decisions stay with you for a while."

We could spend a lot of time debating whether or not Panetta has done a good job upholding the teachings of the church in his work (and there was already a good deal of discussion among Catholics over bin Laden's death). But nonetheless, I found it refreshing to hear someone in Panetta's position say that faith plays a role in his work. This wasn't the kind of religious flag waving that presidential candidates are doing these days, but rather a serious, reflective comment about trying to live the Catholic faith under circumstances that are clearly more challenging than what most of us have to deal with on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, there was no follow up on Panetta's comment about faith. I'd like to see someone in the Catholic media engage him in a deeper discussion of the issue, but in the meantime, it will be interesting to watch as his work unfolds in the defense department. Hopefully he truly will bring a Catholic perspective to his work there, because it is something that is sorely needed.

Related reading:

Peace by piece: On peacebuilding with Maryann Cusimano Love

Is this just war? Two Catholic perspectives on the war in Afghanistan