The Pope and the Bomb

February 6, 2020

Pope Francis, from his condemnation of nuclear deterrence to his role in the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, has emerged as a leader in the campaign for a world without nuclear weapons. In November 2019, the pope visited Japan, a country with a troubled nuclear past, where he denounced any use of nuclear weapons as “a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home.” The Vatican now views not only the use but also the very possession of nuclear weapons as immoral, a major departure in policy for the Catholic Church, which conditionally supported deterrence in the 1980s. Now standing as a key voice for the abolition of nuclear arms, the Church has the potential to shape international pressure for disarmament and non-proliferation.

Leaders of other faith traditions—including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Protestant Christianity—have also supported the abolition of nuclear weapons through interfaith advocacy. Activists working for nuclear disarmament, such as the Kings Bay Plowshares Seven, have likewise grounded their protests in religious thought and practice. Religion will continue to play a central role in shaping debates on disarmament, especially as geopolitical tensions mount over a potential arms race between Russia and the United States. 

Prominent Church leaders, Catholic theologians, and policymakers considered nuclear geopolitics, alternative approaches to nuclear disarmament, and the moral and pastoral implications of the Church’s evolving position on nuclear arms as part of a January 2020 workshop co-sponsored by the Berkley Center and hosted at Georgetown University. The Berkley Forum welcomes conference participants and outside experts to reflect on religion and nuclear disarmament. 

This week the Berkley Forum asks: How has Pope Francis changed the conversation on nuclear disarmament? How will the evolving Catholic position on nuclear arms shape the moral teachings and pastoral care of the Church? What are the next steps in religious advocacy on nuclear weapons? How can religious diplomacy shape international policy on nuclear disarmament? What role can religious leaders and laypeople play in promoting local, national, and international action on nuclear policy?

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This event was made possible, in part, by a generous grant from the Nuclear Threat Initiative. It was co-sponsored by the Initiative on Revitalizing Catholic Engagement on Nuclear Disarmament, a collaboration of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the Keough School of Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame; and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network. Additional co-sponsors included:

  • International Federation of Catholic Universities
  • Georgetown University’s Office of the President, Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, and Center on National Security and the Law

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People protest against nuclear arms in Japan