The letter of the U.S. bishops in 1983, “The Challenge of Peace,” and their follow-up letter in 1993, “The Harvest of Justice Is Sown in Peace,” established the U.S. Catholic bishops as a moral voice on nuclear disarmament. They argued, “The eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is more than a moral ideal; it should be a policy goal.” This vision of a world without nuclear weapons guided and continues to shape their public engagement.
The bishops supported ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction treaties (Start I and II) between the United States and the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. In the late 90s they lamented the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the Senate. The bishops welcomed the 2002 Moscow Treaty between the United States and Russia as a positive step, but called on the United States to do much more.
During the past decade, the conference has opposed federal funding for research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, the Reliable Replacement Warhead and other new nuclear weapons.
Recently, as public debate over nuclear questions has grown, the engagement of the bishops has intensified. At its Deterrence Symposium in July 2009, the U.S. Strategic Command turned to the U.S.C.C.B. to offer moral reflections. At that event Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, a member of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, gave a major talk, titled “Nuclear Weapons and Moral Questions: The Path to Zero.” He urged the nuclear powers to “move beyond” deterrence. Subsequently, he joined Global Zero, a group of prominent leaders committed to a nuclear-weapons-free world and addressed their summit meeting in Paris last February.
Last fall Bishop Howard Hubbard, chairman of the bishops’ International Committee, sent the text of Archbishop O’Brien’s July address to every senator and urged each one to take steps toward a nuclear-weapons-free world by ratifying the anticipated Start follow-on treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. At the same time Bishop Hubbard joined other leaders in writing President Obama and endorsing an advertisement in political publications that called for reductions in nuclear weapons. Early this year the bishop teamed up with the Nobel physicist Leon Lederman to write an op-ed piece supporting nuclear disarmament that was published by The Atlanta Journal Constitution. More recently, the conference weighed in on the Nuclear Posture Review, asking President Obama to narrow the purpose of the nuclear arsenal solely to deterring nuclear attack.
In a “swords into plowshares” initiative, the U.S.C.C.B. is promoting the Global Security Priorities Resolution (H.R. 278). The legislation aims to reduce nuclear weapons and directs the savings to strengthen nonproliferation, secure nuclear materials and also improve child nutrition and education in developing countries.
The signing of the new Start Treaty on April 8 in Prague and the possible submission of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate next year will undoubtedly elicit more public engagement.
The U.S.C.C.B. offers the following resources for parishes on nuclear disarmament:
1. Letter from Cardinal Francis George to President Obama welcoming the signing of the new Start treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation and urging members of the U.S. Senate to come together across party lines to ratify it.
2. Action Alert: Inviting Catholics to urge senators to ratify the new Start treaty to verifiably reduce nuclear weapons.
3. Catholic study guide for use with “Nuclear Tipping Point,” a free DVD, based on Catholic social teaching. It is designed to help small groups of adults and mature young people explore issues related to nuclear weapons in the light of their Catholic faith.
4. Background on nuclear arms treaties: explores the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the new Start treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the church’s activities and teaching related to nuclear weapons.
For U.S.C.C.B. resources on nuclear weapons, go online to: http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/nuclear.shtml.