Pope Francis examines photos of the 1945 atomic bombing of Japan as he greets members of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Youth Peace Messengers this past June. CNS photo/Vatican Media

U.S. bishops urged to raise nuclear alarm

  • October 19, 2019

While Canada’s bishops have strongly backed Pope Francis on nuclear disarmament, Americans are unlikely to hear from their bishops anytime soon on what the U.S. should do with its 1,600 deployed nuclear warheads, the executive director of Pax Christi USA told The Catholic Register.

“The only thing that struck me (about the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Sept. 25 ‘Statement on Nuclear Weapons’) was just the contrast with the fact that the U.S. bishops say nothing at all,” said Johnny Zokovitch. “I don’t think you are going to hear anything like that here in the United States.”

The CCCB’s 12-paragraph statement calls on Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and asks the Canadian government to use its seat at NATO to urge the alliance to back away from nuclear deterrence as a defence strategy. The Canadians are the first bishops’ conference to back up Pope Francis’ Nov. 10, 2017 statement on nuclear weapons.

“If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned,” Pope Francis said in 2017. “For they exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race.”

As the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons in war, Americans have a particular responsibility to take up the issue, Zokovitch said. If the American bishops were to speak up, it would be “something that calls people in the pew to a greater understanding of the Church’s teaching around nuclear disarmament,” he said.

The U.S. bishops have not mentioned the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in any of their statements on arms control. 

The USCCB responded to The Register’s request for comment by noting the stand taken by bishops on nuclear issues.

In August the USCCB teamed up with the National Association of Evangelicals to urge members of Congress to extend the New START Treaty, which sets conditions for nuclear verification and disarmament until 2021. 

In the letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio quotes Pope Francis’ declaration that weapons of mass destruction are “fundamentally immoral.”

In February Broglio teamed up with National Association of Evangelicals president Rev. Dr. Leith Anderson to express “regret” that the U.S. would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.   

Aug. 6, 2020 will be the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings that ended the Second World War. In deference to the civilians killed and the 650,000 Hibakusha — atom bomb survivors who lived on in agony — it’s important to stop thinking of nuclear disarmament in purely political terms, said Zokovitch.        

“To hear conservative bishops calling for the ratification of a treaty that is really trumpeted by the progressive Catholic movement all over the world, I think that’s a real positive,” he said.

 “The heart of it, though, is that this is nothing groundbreaking. Pope Francis has certainly been out there — visible, outspoken — about how important nuclear disarmament is, not just for the threat it has in terms of military capabilities but for what it does in terms of stealing from human dignity and the ability to take care of people around the world.”

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