Pope issues historic rejection of nuclear deterrence

licorne-nuclear-testBy Glen Argan

The importance of Pope Francis’ Nov. 10 speech in which he rejected the acceptance of nuclear deterrence cannot be over-emphasized.

The pope’s statement, in the view of Canada’s former disarmament ambassador Douglas Roche, is historic. It reverses “the strictly conditioned moral acceptance” of nuclear deterrence which has been a part of Catholic teaching since the U.S. bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace.

In truth, the Church’s “moral acceptance” of deterrence leaned more toward rejection than to acceptance. “Acceptance” was conditioned on nuclear nations working together toward the total abolition of nuclear weapons. That has never happened.

Still, the United States and other nations used the positive language as a cover for the continued existence of massive nuclear arsenals. While the U.S. and the former Soviet Union did negotiate and implement a major reduction in their arsenals, a nuclear-free world was never their goal.

In his talk to an international symposium on Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament, Pope Francis noted “the escalation of the arms race continues unabated,” stripping money that might better be used for ecological, educational and health care projects as well as the fight against poverty.

The pope cited the possibility of accidental detonation of nuclear weapons as one reason to abolish them. Then, he went on to say, “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.”

Nuclear weapons serve a mentality of fear when the world needs peaceful coexistence, “which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity,” he said.

Pope Francis’ firm condemnation of both the threat of using nuclear weapons and “their very possession” is the most unequivocal papal statement against policies of nuclear deterrence.

The U.S. bishops’ landmark statement was issued 38 years after hundreds of thousands of people were either killed or severely mutilated in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It came at a time of massive increases in the nuclear arsenals of both the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Pope Francis gave his speech 34 years after the American bishops issued their statement. Today, nuclear tensions are again at fever pitch with the U.S. and North Korea each threatening to incinerate the other.

The Church moves slowly, but the world, it seems, moves not at all. The ethic of domination at all costs defines the actions of at least some countries. The ethics of solidarity is present and growing in other nations, but at times it can be difficult to discern.

I thank Pope Francis for his declaration, and I pray that the leaders of nuclear nations will take heed before it is too late.

(See also John Allen’s report on the Vatican attempting to establish contact with North Korea.)

(America Magazine: Nuclear disarmament now a ‘moral imperative’ as Pope Francis rejects deterrence)

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