On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing up to 126,000 civilians.
75 years on from what was the first ever use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict, Catholic bishops from the United Kingdom have joined in calls for nuclear disarmament.
A joint statement from the Bishops of Scotland and England & Wales on Tuesday argued that it is “unjust to continue squandering precious resources” on nuclear arms.
Citing comments made by Pope Francis during his 2019 Papal visit to Japan, where he declared that “the possession of atomic weapons is immoral”, the bishops said that “we are called to reflect prayerfully upon the UK’s own possession of nuclear weapons.”
“Pope Francis reiterated that the threat of mutual destruction, the massive loss of innocent lives and the annihilation of any future for our common home, is completely incompatible with our efforts to build peace,” they said.
The bishops added that the “cost of nuclear weapons should be measured not only in the lives destroyed through their use, but also the suffering of the poorest and most vulnerable people, who could have benefited were such vast sums of public money invested in the Common Good of society instead.”
Referencing their previous statements on nuclear abolition, the bishops said in conclusion: “We therefore recommit ourselves to the abolition of these weapons and to the Holy Father’s call to pray each day ‘for the conversion of hearts and for the triumph of a culture of life, reconciliation and fraternity.'”
The statement was signed by Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, president of the Scottish bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace, and Bishop Declan Lang, head of the Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales’ Department for International Affairs.
Another statement on the abolition of nuclear weapons, made this time by the Christian branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was signed by a further six Catholic bishops, including Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool and Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham.
The Christian CND statement called on the UK Government “to make every effort to engage in meaningful international disarmament, most importantly by committing to the cancellation of the current programme to replace Trident.”
It said that after the nuclear weapon attacks on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “the international community came together at the United Nations to say ‘never again’ and pledged to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons around the world. Sadly, 75 years on, that goal has yet to be met, and many nuclear-armed states, including the United Kingdom, are currently pursuing upgrades to their nuclear arsenals, spending hundreds of billions of pounds in the process.”
The letter concluded that Christians must reject nuclear weapons because “we believe that their capacity to indiscriminately kill millions of our brothers and sisters, and to catastrophically destroy God’s creation, makes them contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ.”
Since the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Church has consistently criticized the use of nuclear weapons and called for what Pope John XXIII described as “integral disarmament”.
After the attacks, Pope Pius XII convened a meeting in 1948 with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to discuss the danger of technological advances which had created “the most terrible weapon that the human mind has ever conceived”.
The Vatican II document Gaudium et spes would later argue that the use of nuclear weapons transgressed “the limits of legitimate defence” because nuclear war would result in the “almost total destruction of the contending parts”.
Then, after the signing of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II both engaged in diplomatic efforts through the United Nations to encourage countries to honour their non-proliferation commitments.
Pope Benedict XVI himself reiterated these commitments in 2010, when he told the new Japanese ambassador to the Holy See that the “tragedy” of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki “reminds us insistently of the need to persevere in our efforts in favour of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and disarmament”.
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