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Pope plans new Catechism change to condemn nuclear deterrence

November 26, 2019

Pope Francis announced today that he plans to change the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say that the possession of nuclear weapons— even for purposes of deterrence— is immoral.

“The use of nuclear weapons is immoral, which is why it must be added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Pontiff told reporters during an in-flight interview as he returned from a visit to Thailand and Japan. “Not only their use, but also possessing them.”

The Pope’s remark matched a statement that he had made in Hiroshima, saying that the possession of nuclear weapons was immoral. That stand was a significant step beyond previous Church teaching, which had condemned the offensive use of nuclear weapons but left open the possibility that a country might be justified in holding nuclear weapons in order to defend against a threat posed by other nations, including hostile nations that might retain a nuclear force.

When asked by a reporter whether he was rejecting the concept of legitimate defense, the Pope did not answer directly, saying that “there are issues regarding the international equilibrium that I cannot judge right now.”

“The idea of legitimate defense is always valid,” the Pope conceded; “even moral theology allows for it, but as a last resort.” He stressed: “Legitimate defense with weapons is a last resort.” But he did not amend his statement that nuclear weapons could not be used for defensive purposes.

Pope Francis also expressed misgivings about the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes: for the production of energy. “Safety systems have not yet been worked out,” he said. “It is my personal opinion, but I would not use nuclear energy until its use is completely safe.” Answering a question from a Japanese reporter, who had mentioned the Fukushima disaster, the Pope said that an accident at a nuclear power plant is immensely more dangerous and one at a conventional power plant.

In answer to another question, the Pope repeated his insistence that capital punishment can never be morally justified. “The death penalty cannot be carried out; it is immoral,” he said. He went on to say that it is also unacceptable to commute a death sentence into life imprisonment, because “any sentence must always allow for reintegration; a sentence without a ray of hope is inhuman.”


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  • Posted by: rdborucki2235 - Dec. 09, 2019 6:13 PM ET USA

    The Pope may have good intentions but they do not apply to the reality of a nuclear attack from a country that does not accept his views about war morality. I would not want him to be in charge of the US Defense Department. I also suggest that he talk with the Iranian and North Korean leaders to guarantee that their countries will not develop nuclear weapons. The belief that a nation should not have nuclear arms as a deterrent is dangerous and denies the importance of a strategic defense.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Nov. 29, 2019 10:13 AM ET USA

    If this statement about nuclear usage had been made 70 years ago it would have been very powerful. Now it is just sad and lacking in moral leadership. Pray for Francis and the Church.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Nov. 29, 2019 12:11 AM ET USA

    In this, Francis is depending on Catholics to abandon previous doctrine and their own prudential judgement and defer to his papal authority. The trouble for him is that a large part of the clergy and episcopate, often led by his own Jesuit order, have spent the last fifty years undermining papal authority. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

  • Posted by: FredC - Nov. 27, 2019 11:09 AM ET USA

    I hope Pope Francis can convince Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea, etc., to destroy all of their nuclear weapons. The U.S. has not been successful in this regard.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Nov. 26, 2019 10:53 PM ET USA

    Pope Francis continues to demonstrate that his rose-colored glasses admit no other color to his vision.

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Nov. 26, 2019 10:33 PM ET USA

    The Pope seeks to make a political vision Catholic doctrine. The Pope is the guardian of Catholic teaching not its source. He continues to harm the Church and cause confusion. So sad. God help him.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Nov. 26, 2019 6:49 PM ET USA

    You know, I just quit the USCCB book email list with the "why did you quit?" explanation that I laughed out loud at the announcement of the "new edition" catechism with the single change of the death penalty forbidden absolutely. I said, are you all going to do another new edition when he adds sins against mother earth to the catechism (which he'd spoken of)? ...And now this. Even the USCCB publishing people have got to be sighing. At least he can't accuse them of rejecting his magisterium.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Nov. 26, 2019 5:53 PM ET USA

    It's policies and beliefs like these that made Tibet the free and powerful nation it is today.