By Daniel Payne
The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ peace committee this week urged Catholics to pray fervently for progress in nuclear arms control, warning of the thousands of nuclear weapons in the world today and the “horrors” that would result from a nuclear exchange.
Rockford Bishop David J. Malloy, who serves as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, issued the statement ahead of the 78th anniversary of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Those attacks brought about an end to World War II at the cost of upwards of 200,000 Japanese civilian lives; they remain to date the only use of nuclear weapons in war.
Malloy in his statement said that, in the decades since those bombings, “the development of nuclear weapons and threat of nuclear war has continued while arms control architecture is dissolving.”
Recalling the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the world teetered on the brink of nuclear exchanges amid the Cold War, Malloy said: “With the wars and threat of wars today, the menace of over 10,000 nuclear weapons in our world must not recede further from the public consciousness of today’s generation.”
“The scourge of the Russia-Ukraine war continues unabated and has included threats of using nuclear weapons,” Maloy said. “In our emergent multipolar world, state and nonstate actors are capitalizing on rapidly developing cyber technologies that are bringing forth weapons systems of increasing sophistication and lethality, compounding the risks of destabilization and miscalculation.”
Malloy pointed out that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the nuclear arms reduction treaty signed by the United States and Russia in 2010, is “unraveling.” The bishops had praised the treaty when it was signed that year; in 2022, however, Russia suspended inspections under the treaty, while earlier this year President Vladimir Putin announced Russia was suspending its participation altogether.
The bishop in his statement urged the world to “remain vigilant never to lose sight of the extraordinary dangers these weapons pose to humanity” and to “be attentive to the differences between just and unjust considerations of statecraft.”
“It has been said before, and it bears repeating, that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” Malloy wrote.
“I call on the Catholic faithful and people of goodwill to pray that the leaders of our nation, and those around the world who govern the control of such weapons, will earnestly seek to make critically needed progress on arms control,” he said.
Catholic authorities have been warning about the threat of nuclear war for decades. St. Paul VI in 1968 called for “putting an end to the nuclear arms race,” while St. John Paul II in 1981 urged humanity to “make a moral about-face” in order to avoid “nuclear annihilation.”
Pope Francis last year, meanwhile, argued that “the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral.”
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons says that, among world powers, Russia holds the most nuclear weapons at nearly 5,900; the U.S. claims just over 5,200, while China, in third place, commands 410.