Below is a statement originally issued as a sign-on statement in May 2008 on the 25th anniversary of the U.S. bishops’ peace pastoral, The Challenge of Peace. We repost it here during this month in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the peace pastoral.
Twenty-five years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. Catholic Bishops issued their historic pastoral letter on war and peace in the nuclear age, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. The “peace pastoral” affirmed the position of Christian nonviolence in the Catholic tradition and reaffirmed Vatican II’s condemnation of nuclear weapons: “The [nuclear] arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race, an act of aggression against the poor and a folly which does not provide the security it promises.” (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 81)
While in 1983 the U.S. Catholic Bishops made clear that nuclear weapons can never be used, they stopped short of condemning nuclear deterrence—the policy of maintaining large arsenals of nuclear weapons solely to prevent the use of those weapons. In that historical moment, they offered only a “strictly conditioned moral acceptance ” of nuclear deterrence. Specifically, they said this must be an interim, not long-term policy; that it was only to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by others; and that it must be “a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament.”
Ten years later, in The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace, the bishops further specified that “progressive disarmament” must mean a commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons, not simply as an ideal, but as a concrete policy goal.
Since 1983, the position of the Catholic Church has evolved and concluded that nuclear deterrence is no longer a suitable or moral means to preserving peace. “Policies of nuclear deterrence, typical of the Cold War period, must be replaced with concrete measures of disarmament based on dialogue and multilateral negotiations” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church). Indeed, in 2005 at the Review Conference of the Nonproliferation Treaty, Vatican Representative Archbishop Celestino Migliore said, “The Holy See has never countenanced nuclear deterrence as a permanent measure, nor does it today when it is evident that nuclear deterrence drives the development of ever newer nuclear arms, thus preventing genuine nuclear disarmament.”
It is abundantly clear that the U.S. policy of nuclear deterrence has been institutionalized—been made a “permanent measure,” the very “long-term basis for peace” that the U.S. Catholic Bishops rejected in The Challenge of Peace— and that the United States has no policy goal of eliminating either these immoral weapons or their central role in U.S. national security strategy planning.
Rather, the United States has today embarked on a $150 billion reinvestment in its nuclear weapons arsenal dubbed Complex Transformation (formerly known as Complex 2030). The United States is modernizing its nuclear arsenal and modifying existing warheads to achieve new capabilities; retooling its capacity for nuclear weapons research, design and production; enhancing systems necessary to plan and execute nuclear strikes; and has developed a “Global Strike” capability that allows the United States to launch nuclear weapons against any target on earth in less than a few hours.
As Catholic Christians and followers of the nonviolent Jesus, we reject this “institutionalization” of nuclear deterrence as nothing less than nuclear terrorism.
WE CALL on the Bush Administration to abandon the $150 billion Complex Transformation program as a provocative and unnecessary initiation of a new nuclear arms race and, as such, an unconscionable theft from the poor as articulated by Vatican II.
WE CALL on the Catholic Church in the United States to evaluate current U.S. nuclear weapons policy and expenditures in strict accordance with their moral conclusions of 1983 and 1993, and to finally pronounce its rejection of the morality of nuclear deterrence.
WE CALL on all Catholics and people of faith to evaluate candidates for President and Congress based on their commitment to change U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
The time has come for the Catholic Church in the United States to renounce the deception of nuclear deterrence. As the Vatican so clearly stated over ten years ago: “Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century. They cannot be justified. They deserve condemnation. The preservation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty demands an unequivocal commitment to their abolition. . . . This is a moral challenge, a legal challenge and a political challenge. That multiple-based challenge must be met by the application of our humanity.”