Pope Francis announced this week that “the use of nuclear weapons is immoral, which is why it must be added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
Two years after the Vatican State signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (currently ratified by 34 countries), he declared during an in-flight press briefing from Japan to Rome, “Not only their use, but also possessing them: because an accident or the madness of some government leader, one person’s madness can destroy humanity.”
Nearly 75 years after the United States used nuclear weapons against Japan —killing, by some estimates 150,000 people in Hiroshima and 75,000 in the historic Catholic city of Nagasaki — Pope Francis reiterated that nuclear weapons are a threat to humanity, strategically reckless, and an offense to the poor and to God.
If the pro-life, anti-nuke Pope’s position is formally added to the catechism, the collected principles of faith used in basic instruction in the Catholic Church, then second-graders in Catholic schools will learn that that nuclear weapons are a sin, in the same moral category as intentional murder and the death penalty. As Jesuit Richard McSorley put it in Sojourners in 1977, “building a nuclear weapon is a sin” and “our possession of them is a proximate occasion of sin.”
What does this evolution of moral principles mean for lay Catholics who are required to answer for our complicity in unjust laws or unjust social situations? Read more.
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 defendants received word Friday evening that Magistrate Cheesbro of the Southern District Court of Georgia, recommended that their motions to dismiss the charges including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act argument be denied.
The seven defendants, all Catholics, had testified with expert witnesses during their November 2018 evidentiary hearings and have waited fourteen weeks for the decision. There is still no trial date set but it is expected to be in two or three months in Brunswick, GA.
Their statement follows:
“On April 4, 2018, we went onto the Kings Bay naval base, the largest nuclear submarine base in the world, to make real the prophet Isaiah’s command to beat swords into plowshares. We were charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor which carry a maximum penalty of over 20 years in prison.
We immediately filed motions to dismiss the charges. We argued in detail that all nuclear weapons are both immoral and illegal. The commandment Thou Shall Not Kill applies to us individually and to our government.
On April 26, 2019, U.S. Magistrate Benjamin Cheesbro issued an 80 page report recommending our motions to dismiss be denied. We now have 30 days to appeal his decision to US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood.
In response to our use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense, the court found our cause is a legitimately religious one and that our faith is sincere. Magistrate Cheesbro concluded, however, that imprisoning us for up to 20 years is not a coercive response to our faith-based actions, but that even if it is, such imprisonment is the government’s least coercive response. Obviously all of us and thousands more have been praying and protesting outside of military bases. We think when the government is prepared to launch weapons which can destroy all life on earth, we must do more.
We are already working on our appeal and look forward to appearing before Judge Wood.
We realize the struggle to rid the world of nuclear weapons is an uphill one. We look forward to continuing to live our lives in a quest for peace and justice.”
Editor’s note: Seven Catholics entered the Trident nuclear submarine base in Kings Bay Georgia on April 4, 2017, to demonstrate their religious beliefs that nuclear weapons should be dismantled and abolished. The Kings Bay Plowshares co-defendants are in court this week bringing a Religious Freedom Restoration Act case against the military base.
The co-defendants called as an expert witness, Jeannine Hill Fletcher, a Fordham University theology professor, who reviewed Catholic social teachings from writings of Popes and the 2nd Vatican Council. After referring to Pacem in Terris and Gaudium et Spes which condemn the use of nuclear weapons, she pointed to Pope Francis’ statement in 2017 that “The threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.” Dr. Hill Fletcher’s press statement is below..–Rose Marie Berger
Press Statement Prepared by Jeannine Hill Fletcher
On April 4, 2017, The Kings Bay Plowshares undertook a sacramental action to sound the prophetic call that is at the heart of the Christian Gospel: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31; Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:27). They placed themselves in Christ’s greatest directive of love: “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)
After years of prayer and discernment, listening deeply to the call of conscience and the prophetic call of the Gospel, these courageous Catholics set forth to make sacred what had been profaned. As Catholics, we take seriously the message of the Bible that the earth and all its creatures are God’s (Psalm 24:1). But the chain-link fence of the Kings Bay Trident Naval Base stands as a visible sign that some among humanity claim that they can determine the future and fate of the earth and all its creatures. In prophetic and sacramental witness, the Kings Bay Plowshares cut through the false security of the chain-link fence to make present for all who have eyes to see, the false security of nuclear weapons. For it is God alone who has the power to give life and to take it away; and it is at the heart of the Catholic faith that God alone is our security. The Kings Bay Plowshares were compelled by their faith to undertake a sacramental action that would consecrate what had been desecrated, by the sprinkling of blood and the prophetic reminder of the heart of the Gospel, spray-painting the prophetic message: Love Thy Neighbor.
For this prophetic action, the Kings Bay Plowshares are being prosecuted for breaking the law. But, Doctor of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas made a crucial distinction between a just and an unjust law, on the basis of its origin and its end. A just law has as its end human good and “the law does not exceed the power of the lawgiver” (Summa Theologica, Part II, Question 96, Article 4). An unjust law, does not have as its end human good, and has been created by someone in such a way “that goes beyond the power committed to him.” A just law, aligned with the natural law of God, makes a demand on our human conscience. An unjust law, requires of our conscience that it not be followed. In Aquinas’s words, “Laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, ‘we ought to obey God rather than man.’” Catholic Social Teaching maintains this distinction between just and unjust laws, as well as the role of conscience in determining the righteousness of law. In the words of Pope John XXIII in Pacem et Terris (1963): “laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience, since “it is right to obey God rather than men’.”
In accordance with the teaching of Jesus found in the New Testament, the Catholic Christian tradition places one law above all others: you shall love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The maintenance of nuclear warheads is in direct violation of this law.
Catholic Social Teaching has named nuclear weapons such as those housed at Kings Bay Naval Base as “offenses against humanity and the common good” (Holy See, “Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition” (2014). The documents of Vatican II named the use of any weapons “aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population” as “a crime against God and [humanity]” that “merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.” (Gaudium et Spes, #80) In the words of Pope Francis “The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned.” The principles of Catholic Social Teaching demand Catholics denounce unjust laws which compromise the dignity of each human person, destroy the common good, fail in our stewardship of the earth, global solidarity and the promotion of peace. Catholic Social Teaching has denounced nuclear weapons as contrary to the principles of the faith.
In his message on nuclear disarmament, Pope Francis lifted up the words of Pope John XXIII that the process of disarmament must be thoroughgoing and complete, and it must reach into our very souls. Standing in solidarity with humanity, the Kings Bay Plowshares attempted to reach the very souls of fellow Catholics and Christians that we must “wake up” to the threat to humanity and the affront to God that is our nuclear weapons arsenal through the sacramental action of sprinkling blood and inscribing the words “Love One Another.”
The defendants were motivated by deeply held religious beliefs and have acted in accordance with Catholic Social Teaching and the prophetic call of the Christian tradition.–Jeannine Hill Fletcher
The Kings Bay Plowshares – Liz, Steve, Carmen, Mark, Martha, Clare and Patrick – were moved on May 7 to the Glynn County Detention Center in Brunswick, Georgia. On May 10, they will appear in federal court in Brunswick. Last week, an indictment was filed by the federal government and the group was charges with four counts: conspiracy, destruction of property on a Naval Station, depredation of government property and trespass.
For more information about the action, jail reflections, suggestions about how to continue the witness, how to make a donation and more, visit https://www.kingsbayplowshares7.org/ and the Kings Bay Plowshares Facebook page.
Clare Grady 015632
Patrick O’Neill 015637
Elizabeth McAlister 015633
Stephen Kelly 015634
Martha Hennessy 015631
Mark Colville 015635
Carmen Trotta 015636
Glynn County Detention Center, 100 Sulphur Springs Road, Brunswick, GA 31520.
Please note: Inmates may only receive plain white pre-stamped postcards written in blue or black ink. Postcards may not have any pictures nor backgrounds on them. Plain white pre-stamped postcards may be purchased at some Post Offices and online. Do not use any return address labels or other labels. All postcards are subject to search and /or screening. Include your handwritten return address. Inmates cannot receive letters or packages.
(Kings Bay Plowshares activists held on multiple charges following arrest at Kings Bay nuclear submarine base in Georgia, 4/5/18. Read more.)
Seven Catholic leaders trespassed onto the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia on Wednesday. This is the first major direct anti-nuclear action taken by U.S. Catholics since Pope Francis announced in November that Catholics should condemn not only the use of a nuclear weapon but their possession.
“The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned,” the pope told participants at a conference on nuclear disarmament hosted by the Vatican in collaboration with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons passed by the United Nations in July 2017.
The seven members of the Kings Bay Plowshares, a nonviolent movement committed to “beating swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4), included Elizabeth McAlister, a revered leader in the American Catholic peace movement; Fr. Stephen Kelley, a Jesuit priest; Martha Hennessy, granddaughter of Dorothy Day who was founder of the Catholic Worker movement and currently considered for sainthood; with Clare Grady, Patrick O’Neill, Carmen Trotta, and Mark Colville.
In a video statement made before crossing on to the naval base, Hennessy said: “We plead to our Church to withdraw its complicity in violence and war. We cannot simultaneously pray and hope for peace while we bless weapons and condone war making. Pope Francis says abolition of weapons of mass destruction is the only way to save God’s creation from destruction.
Clarifying the teachings of our Church, Pope Francis said, “The threat of their use as well as their very possession is to be firmly condemned … weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”
Currently, all seven are held in Camden County jail in Woodbine, Georgia. They have been denied bond. At a support vigil held on Saturday, 7 April, at 10a (EST), the supporters read sections from the book of Acts until the sheriff’s department moved the vigilers away from the entrance gate to the base.