The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out in favor of the proposed “New START” treaty, which would continue a mutual U.S.-Russian reduction of nuclear arms that began in 1991.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed the treaty in April 2010, enabling it to take effect if both countries' legislatures agree to its terms. The treaty would commit each country to reduce its stockpile of nuclear warheads by around 10 percent, relative to previous levels that Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush agreed on in 2002.
The Second Vatican Council condemned nuclear war, along with many other forms of modern warfare that “inflict massive and indiscriminate destruction,” as a “crime against God and man.” Pius XII had previously condemned nuclear warfare in similar terms.
The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, now a candidate for beatification, speculated during the 1970s that America's use of nuclear weapons in 1945 had degraded the nation's moral conscience, inaugurating an era of “no limits and no boundaries.”
Speaking on behalf of the USCCB's Committee on International Justice and Peace, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York explained in a Dec. 7 press conference that the New START treaty would represent an important step toward bringing public policy into line with Church teaching.
“Nuclear war is rejected in Church teaching because nuclear weapons cannot ensure noncombatant immunity,” he explained, adding that such weapons' “destructive power and lingering radiation cannot be meaningfully proportionate” even to the aims of an otherwise-just war.
The bishop quoted Pope Benedict's insight that “in a nuclear war, there would be no victors, only victims.”
Like many other forms of bombing, nuclear strikes almost inevitably involve the direct killing of innocent civilians. Thus, in terms of traditional Catholic teaching, they are equivalent to abortion and other forms of homicide. Accordingly, the Holy See also endorses the ratification of the New START treaty, as a modest step toward the goal of universal nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
“Our Conference understands this is a deal that will take years to reach,” Bishop Hubbard acknowledged, “but it is a task which our nation must take up with renewed moral energy.”
“As the world's leading nuclear powers, the United States and the Russian Federation have the moral responsibility to lead by example.”
Bishop Hubbard also articulated the urgent need for the new treaty, without which there will be “no inspections or verification regimens in place” between the United States and the Russian Federation. He called that prospect a “disturbing and potentially dangerous situation” which “our nation has not faced in decades.”
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the current president of the USCCB, has also publicly affirmed the position of the conference as a “steadfast supporter of strong and bipartisan action on the New START treaty.”
The bishops were joined in their support of the treaty by Leith Anderson, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.