Pope says world has reached moral limit on nuclear deterrence

By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2017

Pope Francis pauses as he answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Rome Dec. 2. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BANGLADESH — The Cold War policy of nuclear deterrence appears morally unacceptable today, Pope Francis said.
St. John Paul II, in a 1982 message to the U.N. General Assembly, said deterrence “may still be judged morally acceptable” as a stage in the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

But Pope Francis, in a message in early November to a Vatican conference, said “the very possession” of nuclear weapons “is to be firmly condemned.”

During a news conference Dec. 2 on his flight back to Rome from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Pope Francis was asked what had changed since St. John Paul wrote to the United Nations and whether the war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un influenced his position.

“What has changed?” the pope responded. “The irrationality has changed.”

Pope Francis said his position is open to debate, but “I’m convinced that we are at the limit of licitly having and using nuclear weapons.”

The world’s nuclear arsenals, he said, “are so sophisticated that you risk the destruction of humanity or a great part of humanity.”

Even nuclear power plants raise questions, the pope said, because it seems that preventing accidents and cleaning up after them is almost impossible.

Pope Francis said he was not dictating “papal magisterium,” or formal church teaching, but was raising a question that a pope should raise: “Today is it licit to maintain the nuclear arsenals as they are or, to save creation and to save humanity, isn’t it necessary to turn back?”

The weapons are designed to bring one side victory by destroying the other, he said, “and we are at the limit of what is licit.”

During the flight the pope also addressed meeting with the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

Well aware he was disappointing some people by not using the word “Rohingya” publicly in Myanmar, Pope Francis said his chief concern had been to get a point across, and he did.

“If I would have used the word, the door would have closed,” he told reporters.

In his speeches in Myanmar, Pope Francis repeatedly referred to the obligation to defend the lives and human rights of all people. But he did not specifically mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Rakhine state. The Myanmar military, claiming it is cracking down on militants, has been accused of a massive persecution of the Rohingya to the point that some describe it as “ethnic cleansing.”

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the Bangladeshi border just since August, joining hundreds of thousands already living in refugee camps there.
For the government of Myanmar, the Rohingya do not exist; instead they are considered undocumented immigrants.

“I knew that if, in an official speech, I would have used the word, they would closed the door in my face,” the pope told reporters who asked why he did not name the group. However, “I described the situation” publicly, knowing “I could go further in the private meetings” with government officials.

“I was very, very satisfied with the meetings,” the pope said. “I dared to say everything I wanted to say.”

It is true, he said, “I did not have the pleasure” of making “a public denunciation, but I had the satisfaction of dialoguing, allowing the other to have his say and, in that way, the message got across.”

Still, finally being able to meet some of the Rohingya refugees Dec. 1 in Bangladesh was an emotional moment for Pope Francis.


  • pope francis
  • nuclear weapons

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