War and Peace: Moral Arguments for Nuclear Disarmament

Submitted by: Jim Bacik

In 2022, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico published a pastoral letter, “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament,” with the explicit purpose of fostering serious conversations across the nation on abolishing nuclear weapons. Explaining his passion on this issue, the Archbishop recalled his 2017 visit to the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan commemorating the August 6, 1945 bombing when “humans crossed the line into the darkness of the nuclear age,” so that we can now kill “billions of people instantly and even destroy the world in a flash.”

In his pastoral Archbishop Wester praised Pope Francis for leading the Church in a “dramatic shift” away from provisional support for a policy of nuclear deterrence to denouncing nuclear weapons as immoral and calling for their complete abolition (p.9). While paying tribute to all the victims of the nuclear attack on Japan, Francis declared that the nuclear arms race creates a false sense of security, poisons international relationships and damages the environment. Finally, in his 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti, Francis argues that the elimination of nuclear weapons is a “moral and humanitarian imperative” (n262).

Archbishop Wester places the teachings of Pope Francis in the context of Catholic Social Teaching going back to the 1963 encyclical Pacem in terris by Pope John XXIII who insisted lasting peace could not be based on the possession of an equal supply of armaments but only on mutual trust. In the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes, Vatican II taught the arms race is an “utterly treacherous trap for humanity” that is especially harmful to the poor. In a 1987 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Pope John Paul called for a “a mutual, progressive, and verifiable reduction of armaments,” based on ethical choices that will guarantee a lasting peace. Finally, John Wester cites Pope Benedict who in his 2006 World Day of Peace message called the notion that states need nuclear weapons to maintain peace “not only baneful but completely fallacious.”

After recalling the development of Catholic Social Teaching on nuclear deterrents, Archbishop Wester invites us to reflect on how Jesus practiced nonviolence. When he began his public ministry Jesus declared: “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:13) inviting his followers to practice nonviolence here and now. In his great Sermon on the Mount he called us to be peacemakers, to reject violence and to love our enemies (Matt 5-7).

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem by passing through Samaria. He sent his disciples to a Samaritan village to prepare for his coming, but the people did not welcome him. James and John responded by asking Jesus if they should call fire down from heaven to destroy them, but Jesus “rebuked” them and they went to another village (9:51-56).

When Jesus reached Jerusalem, he took nonviolent, direct action to confront systemic injustice in the Temple (Mark 11: 15-18). Soon after, Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter used his sword to defend Jesus which prompted the Lord to utter his last words to his disciples: “Put away the sword” (Matt 26:52). Archbishop Wester concludes his portrayal of Jesus as a nonviolent peacemaker by pointing out that he maintained his nonviolent approach throughout his trial, torture and execution, even forgiving his executioners (Lk 27:34). Furthermore, after his resurrection, he offered a greeting of peace to his disciples who had abandoned him and sent them out to continue his mission of peace and nonviolence, a mission shared by all Christians today in a world threatened by nuclear weapons (John 20: 19-23).


`What is my reaction to Archbishop John Wester’s moral arguments?

About the Author

Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.

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