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Pope condemns possession of nuclear weapons [News Analysis]

November 25, 2019

"The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral," Pope Francis told a crowd in Hiroshima on November 24. He added: "As is the possession of atomic weapons."

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Previous Pontiffs have called for the abolition of nuclear weaponry, and decried expenditures on the arms race. But Pope Francis went beyond previous expressions of Church teaching when he said that the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.

The Catholic Church has long taught that the use of nuclear weapons (or any other weapons of mass destruction) to destroy civilian centers is inherently immoral. However, official Church teaching has grudgingly left open the possibility that the possession of nuclear arms, for the purpose of deterrence, might be justifiable, at least as a temporary measure, until the goal of disarmament can be achieved.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses the Church’s abhorrence of nuclear warfare, desire for nuclear disarmament, and contempt for the nuclear arms race— while acknowledging the belief that nuclear deterrence might prevent war:

(2314) Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons— especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons— to commit such crimes.
(2315) The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.

Two years ago, in an address to an international symposium on disarmament, Pope Francis appeared to dismiss any justification for nuclear deterrence when he said, regarding nuclear weapons, that “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.” With his Sunday speech at Hiroshima, he made that rejection of nuclear deterrence unmistakably clear.

It is possible (although admittedly not easy) to imagine a scenario in which nuclear weapons could be used in warfare without causing mass human casualties. And since World War II, as the world has lived uneasily with the existence of nuclear weapons, world leaders have argued that they hold these weapons for purely defensive purposes: to deter a potential enemy from using their own weapons of mass destruction. The November 24 statement by Pope Francis would appear to slam the door on any such justification for a nuclear arsenal.


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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: nix898049 - Nov. 26, 2019 6:08 PM ET USA

    Maybe PF should try convincing the Ayatollah of this FIRST.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Nov. 25, 2019 11:39 PM ET USA

    Pope is running his own agenda without regard to useful information on defense purposes. Easy to say possession is immoral when his own moral actions are called into question. St Michael protect us.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Nov. 25, 2019 9:42 PM ET USA

    Modernists in the Church continue to search for and adjust systems like international disarmament to combat evil acts. But the Church isn’t here to invent or tweak worldly systems, but to bring hearts and intellects into line with Christ’s. As the Marechal de Saxe wrote over 200 years ago, “The human heart is the starting point in all matters relating to war.”

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 25, 2019 3:39 PM ET USA

    How many mass exterminations (e.g., Chinese, Soviet, German, etc.) have likely been prevented since the advent of defensive nuclear weapons systems? These weapons, like cars, trucks, airplanes, knives, and even guns, are only as dangerous as the one driving, stabbing, or pulling the trigger. If modern advances in the penal system have purportedly made capital punishment obsolete, then why do advances in defensive weapons systems not make world wars and mass exterminations likewise obsolete?

  • Posted by: john.aerts6220 - Nov. 25, 2019 12:01 PM ET USA

    come, slaughter us....that is moral and cannot be defended against? I am not following... Jesus Christ certainly does not Teach that one another, or a nation or nations, has to NOT defend themselves against horrific evil, but rather must defend against unjust aggressors and their evils....what is Jesus Christ missing...or what we missing of Jesus Christ???