Nuclear weapons and protecting human life


Pope Francis travels to Japan on Nov. 24. He will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where tens of thousands of people died after our country dropped atomic bombs in the first and only use of nuclear weapons in war. Countless other people suffered horrific injuries, sickness or premature death in the long drawn-out aftermath. The Holy Father plans to deliver a “Message on Nuclear Weapons” in Nagasaki. Read a follow-up on that message in the next issue of The Catholic Messenger.

His visit to Japan serves to remind the world of the terrible consequences of the use of nuclear weaponry. Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis makes clear that the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, rather than providing a measure of security, diminishes peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.

Plenty of other issues preoccupy our daily lives, but the issue of nuclear weapons should be front and center among them. Fifteen months from now, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia will expire unless Congress votes to extend it. Negotiated in 1991 as START and renegotiated and implemented in 2010 as the New START Treaty, it limits the number of warheads and delivery vehicles (missiles and bombers) that each country can deploy. The treaty also reduces deployed strategic warheads and includes verification requirements (USCCB, Office of International Peace and Justice, February 2018).

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) reports, “if this important treaty is not extended, the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia will be unregulated for the first time since 1972.” Keep in mind that the U.S. and Russia hold 90 percent of all nuclear weapons, large arsenals left over from the Cold War.


Also of deep concern, our federal government withdrew this year from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was said to have stabilized tensions on the European continent and helped end the Cold War. Russia withdrew from the treaty following the United States’ withdrawal.

Laura Anderson, with the Franciscan Peace Center of the Sisters of St. Francis, recently gave a presentation on “How to Prevent the Next Nuclear War.” She pointed out that 60 some pieces of legislation are waiting to be acted on, some for and some against nuclear disarmament.

The complexity of the issue should not intimidate us. Our Catholic Church teaches that all life is sacred. Nuclear weapons threaten human life and dignity. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1993 declared that “The eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is more than a moral idea; it should be a policy goal” (Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace).

This past August, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services USA, and the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, penned a letter to leaders of Congress regarding the New START Treaty.

They wrote in support of “prudent nuclear disarmament measures related to the extension of the New START Treaty and other steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.” More of us need to reinforce our church’s message:

• Get educated about nuclear weapons — the USCCB website page on nuclear weapons ( is a good place to start. Attend forums, seminars and other events in our communities on this issue. The Nuclear Threat Initiative’s executive vice president, Deborah Rosenblum, planned to give a talk today (Nov. 21) at noon at Drake University on the Nuclear Dangers and a New Nuclear Arms Race. Look for a follow-up article in The Catholic Messenger.

• Advocate for federal legislation that protects human life from nuclear weapons. The Clinton Franciscans support the No-First-Use of Nuclear Weapons bills. HR 921 states that the U.S. would never use nuclear weapons first. The Senate’s version, S. 272, was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

At present, U.S. policy calls for the use of nuclear weapons only in “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners,” the Union of Concerned Scientists reports (7-31-19). However, U.S. policy “allows it to use nuclear weapons first in a non-nuclear conflict with another nuclear-armed country. The president has sole authority to decide whether to launch such an attack.” Ask Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst to sponsor S. 727 and your U.S. representative to support the House bill.

• Call on Congress to extend the New START Treaty. Without an extension, the treaty will expire in February 2021, leaving our world at risk for a nuclear catastrophe. The treaty also works to support international efforts aimed at reducing the spread of nuclear weapons to other nations.

• Oppose the investment of hundreds of billions of dollars in modernizing nuclear weapon systems and support the dismantling of these systems.

• Urge U.S. senators to support ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Thirty-eight years ago, four of five Catholic bishops in Iowa (including the Diocese of Davenport’s bishop) and the major superiors of women religious in the state, issued a declaration opposing the production and deployment of nuclear weapons.

The Congregation of the Humility of Mary in 1988 declared its corporate home in Davenport a nuclear free zone. It’s time to reinforce these statements.

In his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), St. John XXIII wrote, “justice, right reason, and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race.” He quoted Pope Pius XII, who said: “The calamity of a world war, with the economic and social ruin and the moral excesses and dissolution that accompany it, must not on any account be permitted to engulf the human race for a third time.”

The upcoming visit of Pope Francis to Hiroshima and Nagasaki comes at a critical time for a church that embraces life from womb to tomb.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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