Nuclear weapons 'present an existential threat to mankind'


A group of 40 Catholic bishops, policy specialists, scholars, young professionals, and students gathered at Stanford University in California last week to discuss Catholic support for nuclear disarmament.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops said about the meeting: "The colloquium was the kick-off of a larger project intended to empower a new generation of Catholic bishops, scholars, professionals and students to address the ethical and policy challenges of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons."

Those attending were addressed by George Shultz, the US Secretary of State to Ronald Regan, who said: "Nuclear weapons present an existential threat to mankind.

"We need to reduce the numbers of these weapons, identify and take the steps needed to keep them under better control, and ultimately eliminate them."

Other senior former US Cabinet figures in attendance included William Perry, Secretary of Defence under Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State to Richard Nixon.

The conference was also attended by James Goodby, vice chairman of the US delegation to the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks of 1982-1991, and Sam Nunn, a former US senator for the state of Georgia and co-founder of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a leading nuclear disarmament NGO.

The meeting was hosted at Standord's Hoover Institution and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and came just before the official canonisation of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, both of whom were vocal in their support for nuclear disarmament.

Reverend John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, described the canonisations as having "fortuitous timing, as we can surely use more high-placed opponents of nuclear weapons to hear our prayers and intercede for us".

In John XXIII's Papal circular 'Pacem in Terris' – Peace on Earth, which he wrote only six months after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, he said: "Nuclear weapons must be banned. A general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament program, with an effective system of mutual control."

In 1981, Pope John Paul II called for nuclear disarmament while speaking at the Peace Memorial Hall in Hiroshima: "Let us promise our fellow human beings that we will work untiringly for disarmament and the banishing of all nuclear weapons."

Both Popes agreed that the only place for nuclear weapons was as a means of deterrence against the horrors of nuclear war, and only then as a step on the road towards long term total nuclear disarmament.

Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, the chairman of the USCCB's Committee on International Justice and Peace, was quoted by Notre Dame News saying: "The bishops have made the moral case for ultimate nuclear disarmament, Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn have made the case for disarmament as a policy goal, a goal embraced by the US and Russian governments.

"My hope is that this colloquium will be the beginning of a process to invigorate and refine the voice of the US Catholic community in the debate on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament."

The USCCB hopes the participants in the next stages of the process will "convene symposia for ethicists and policy experts, publish articles in scholarly and popular journals and reach out to students and young professionals through social media".

Rev Jenkins suggested that Catholic universities would play a crucial roll in this new process, saying that those institutions "should serve as networks of discussion and sources of knowledge – able to explore and address the practical, technical and ethical issues that arise on the way to a global ban".