We must object to the arms race and to the use of nuclear weapons. Any other stance would be inconsistent with what the Church expects.
Self-interest and the struggle for power must give way to reason and concern for human dignity and life. Nuclear armaments are creating an appalling inventory of horror that could turn our globe into a giant crematorium.
There is a crazy irony in the euphemism now used about the neutron bomb in that it is "clean" - clean in the sense that while it leaves buildings untouched it will kill everything else within its range.
To applaud the preservation of things while seeming to accept the annihilation of people is to deny God. People are made in the image of God.
Of all creation, human beings have intelligence and free will. For this reason they have a dignity that must be honoured and protected, and not threatened with extinction.
The Vatican Council declared: "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of whole cities and their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity itself." (Gaudium et Spes)
Form of Theft
The Catholic Church has repeated many times that "the arms race is to be condemned unreservedly", "it is an injustice", "it is a form of theft, "it is completely incompatible with the spirit of humanity and still more with the spirit of Christianity." (The Holy See & Disarmament Reply to an invitation by the General Assembly of the United Nations, 1975)
When he was Hiroshima last year, Pope John Paul spoke of what he saw as "a new world-wide consciousness against war and fresh determination to work for peace." He added that there was no justification for not raising the question of responsibility of each nation - and each individual - in the face of nuclear threat.
The growth of nuclear armament with its horrific potential for the destruction of people means that future discussion on disarmament and related topics should not be confined only to delegations comprising government-sponsored points of view.
In this area of such awesome power where every person in the world is in peril, the situation is too drastic for it to be confined only to these who express one opinion, who take the "official" line. If people could be correctly polled about their views, the official stance could well be a minority opinion.
Work for Peace
The national peace committee of our Commission for Evangelisation, Justice and Development, has given urgency to the cause of peace. We welcome this initiative. It is confirmed by the recent statement by Pope John Paul II to the Presidents of the United States and USSR on the reduction of nuclear arms in Europe, and clearly aligns the Church with those who, conscious that the world is ready for war, would plead that we turn our energies to working for peace.
We recognise that in issuing this statement we may seem to be adding only words to the millions already written about the deadly peril of nuclear conflict. But we cannot remain silent while political powers put their faith in armaments by way of ensuring peace. To gamble with the future of our world in this way is madness. Even economic development requires disarmament, and not mere arms limitations.
Peace can never be simply the absence of war. Peace can be attained only with positive and courageous efforts.
We appreciate that this is a most complex moral question, and Christians cannot claim any special wisdom to a once-and-for-all solution.
The Just War?
As was pointed as recently as Easter by our brother bishops in Scotland, there are special reasons for this perplexity, further to what we have already stated.
We have inherited in Catholic tradition the view that for the sake of justice war may be undertaken in extreme circumstances and waged under certain conditions.
But such justification was evolved in times when war was very different in kind and degree from what it is now. Pope Paul VI said in 1978 to the UN: â€œThe question of war and peace presents itself today in new terms. It is not that the principles have changed but today war has at its disposal means which have immeasurably magnified its horror and its wickedness."
It is true that as long as there is no effective international authority capable of maintaining peace a legitimate government cannot be denied the right of self-defence.
We are convinced, however, that if it is immoral to use these ,weapons it is also immoral to threaten their use. Some argue that the threat can be justified as the lesser of two evils. The crux of the problem is whether in any foreseeable circumstance a policy of self-defence based on the use or even the threat of use of these weapons of terrible destructiveness can ever be morally justified.
Our special prayer is that world leaders will realise the impossibility and the foolishness of a so-called "limited" nuclear war.
We call on all members of the Church to pray earnestly that what many fear for our world and its people will never come to pass.