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.”
Reflection by Martha Hennessy
From Camden County Jail, Woodbine, Georgia Jail
Sunday, April 22, 2018
When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against the Lord’s anointed one.(Acts 4: 23-26)
We walked in the dark, stars overhead, with Orion at our shoulder and the waning moon rising late. Praise to you Dear God, for this gift of Eden. There were fire flies and croaking frogs to keep us company. And to think the logic of Trident is the obliteration of Creation. What did God whisper to my ancestors and then to me? Swords into Plowshares! We don’t mean to make everyone furious, but why turn our blood and hammers into spray paint and bolt cutters?* Why continue to set the desecrated altar to the false idols of war? We walked onto a military base that harbors the ultimate destruction, and we prayed for the power of a message, of a witness that could reach many ears; conversion of free will towards life- giving work and away from death dealing false constructs.
We strung up crime scene tape over the model missiles and over the door to the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic (SWFLANT), a place where war plans promise to take all we love. We wish to indict this war machine for what it is: immoral, illegal, and monstrous. Our foolish plans desire to see a world in which the suffering is lessened, our leaders begin to know what it means if they pull the nuclear trigger. Our action is an invitation to all for a change of heart that will bring us to true revolution.–Martha Hennessy (granddaughter of Dorothy Day who cofounded the Catholic Worker Movement)
*Editor’s note: the charging documents and the Magistrate referred to their possession of bolt cutters and spray paint, but ignored mention of the symbols of blood and hammers, which were used by the seven in their symbolic action. Please contribute to the Kings Bay Plowshares legal fund.
This interview between Rose Marie Berger and James W. Douglass was conducted at Joe Rush Retreat Center in Middleton, AL, on Dec. 10, 2017 as part of the Mary’s House Advent Retreat. The theme of the weekend was the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (https://nonviolencejustpeace.net/). Thomas Merton died on Dec. 10, 1968. This was a unplanned part of the retreat and we are grateful it was captured on tape.
While Japan begins yet another multi-generational nuclear nightmare as a result of the nuclear power plant meltdown at Fukushima, here on the home front two grandmothers, two priests, and a nun go to jail for protecting you and me against a similar fate.
In Tacoma, Washington, on Monday, March 28, 2011, 5 of our elders were sentenced in federal court for calling to account the hundreds of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiled for use by our Trident submarines. The Trident base at Bangor is home to the largest single stockpile of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal.
For years there has been a concerted effort by the nuclear and defense industry to distance nuclear weapons production from nuclear power. In reality, it is all one industry that produces all one result: a deadly toxin with no known cure that kills everything it encounters either immediately or slowly over generations through cancer and genetic mutation. Whether used offensively in weaponized form or “passively” to boil water and turn on lights, nuclear fission–as an industry–must be dismantled.
(Note: Nuclear medicine accounts for a tiny percentage of radioactive material in the U.S. and can continue with proper regulation.)
Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy are all part of the same death cycle. It’s time to stop nuclear weapons production, research, upgrades, and extended contracts. It’s time to dismantle existing nuclear weapons.
It’s time to suspend licensing for all nuclear power plants. It’s time to end subsidies to the nuclear power industry. If we transferred the nuclear power industry’s subsidy money toward renewable resources, then within 5 years we could be well on our way to carbon-free energy independence.
So who are the grandparents out defending you against a radioactive future? Sentenced were:
*Anne Montgomery, 83, a Sacred Heart sister from New York, who was ordered to serve 2 months in federal prison and 4 months electronic home confinement
*Bill Bischel, 81, a Jesuit priest from Tacoma Washington, ordered to serve 3 months in prison and 6 months electronic home confinement
*Susan Crane, 67, a member of the Jonah House community in Baltimore, Maryland, ordered to serve 15 months in federal prison
*Lynne Greenwald, 60, a nurse from Bremerton Washington, ordered to serve 6 months in federal prison
*Steve Kelly, 60, a Jesuit priest from Oakland California, ordered to serve 15 months in federal prison
They were also ordered to pay $5300 each and serve an additional year in supervised probation. To consider whether you might join them, contact Disarm Now Plowshares or support them through your prayers, financial aid, and letters.
Just a reminder about the scale of nuclear weapons we are talking about at this one nuclear base in Bangor, Washington. In November 2006, the Natural Resources Defense Council declared that the 2,364 nuclear warheads at Bangor are approximately 20 percent of the entire U.S. arsenal. The Bangor base houses more nuclear warheads than China, France, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan combined.
The base has been rebuilt for the deployment of the larger and more accurate Trident D-5 missile system. Each of the 24 D-5 missiles on a Trident submarine is capable of carrying eight of the larger 455 kiloton W-88 warheads (each warhead is about 30 times the explosive force as the Hiroshima bomb.) The D-5 missile can also be armed with the 100 kiloton W-76 warhead. The Trident fleet at Bangor deploys both the 455 kiloton W-88 warhead and the 100 kiloton W-76 warhead.
Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admitted this week that the Fukushima disaster was a level 5, which is classified as a crisis causing “several deaths from radiation” due to “severe damage to reactor core and release of large quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high probability of significant public exposure,” according to the UN International Atomic Energy Commission.
However, the U.S. and Europe have put the Japan nuclear crisis at Level 6: Serious impact on people and environment with significant release of radioactive material. Usually, when it reaches this level, governments begin classifying the research on how it affected civilian and environmental populations. So it’s not known how many deaths, birth defects, genetic damage, or long-term cancers were caused by previous Level 6 disasters.
Orthodox Christian Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said recently, “Our Creator has given us the sun, wind, waves, from which energy can be extracted for our needs. An ecological science has the ability to invent tools for the production of renewable energy that is not harmful. Why, then, spread the use of energy production that is so dangerous to the integrity of the human race? Is it not an insult and a provocation of nature, which in turn then turns her back on human beings? From this our humble home, along with our prayers for the sorely tried people of the Land of the Rising Sun, we take the opportunity to make an appeal to States to reconsider their policy on nuclear energy.”
Douglass’ investigation into the secret papers finally released during the Clinton era begin to uncover a deadly “family pattern” of behavior in the highest levels of political power. Now, Douglass has written an important article for Tikkun magazine that looks at how the pattern is being repeated again between President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and Afghanistan.
Below is Part 4: Kennedy and Krushchev Ally Against Their Own Militaries
In the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy had to confront the unspeakable in the form of total nuclear war. At the height of the terrifying conflict that his own anti-Castro policies had helped precipitate, he felt the situation spiraling out of control, especially because of pressures and provocations by the Pentagon led by General Curtis LeMay. At a moment when the world was falling into darkness, Kennedy did what his generals thought was unforgivable: he not only rejected their pressures for attacking Cuba and the Soviet Union, but even worse, the president also reached out to the enemy for help. That could be considered treason.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev saw it as hope. Robert Kennedy had met secretly with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in Washington, warning that the president was losing control to his generals and needed the Soviets’ help. When Khrushchev received Kennedy’s plea for help in Moscow, he turned to his foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, and said, “We have to let Kennedy know that we want to help him.”
Khrushchev hesitated when he heard himself say “help.” Just when the U.S. president seemed to be at his wit’s end, did he, Khrushchev, really want to help his enemy? Yes, he did. He repeated the word “help” to his foreign minister: “Yes, help. We now have a common cause, to save the world from those pushing us toward war.”
How can we understand that moment? The two most heavily armed leaders in history, on the verge of total nuclear war, suddenly joined hands against those on both sides pressuring them to attack. Khrushchev ordered the immediate withdrawal of his missiles, in return for Kennedy’s public pledge never to invade Cuba and his secret promise to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey — as he would in fact do. The two Cold War enemies had turned, so that each now had more in common with his opponent than either had with his own generals.
Neither John Kennedy nor Nikita Khrushchev was a saint. Each was deeply complicit in policies that brought humankind to the brink of nuclear war. Yet, when they encountered the void, they turned to each other for help. In doing so, they turned humanity toward the hope of a peaceful planet.
Kennedy kept walking in that direction, as did Khrushchev.
JFK gave his greatest speech on June 10, 1963, at American University. In it he envisioned an end to the Cold War, saying he was stopping atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and “we will not be the first to resume.” He said he wanted to negotiate a test ban treaty with the Soviets as soon as possible in Moscow (a less hostile context for negotiations with the enemy than the president’s own Washington). His long-range goal, he said, was “general and complete disarmament — designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace which would take the place of arms.”
Khrushchev responded in the same spirit. In an astonishing six weeks, the two leaders agreed to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Kennedy said, however, that getting Senate ratification would be “almost in the nature of a miracle.” The president convened peace activists, business leaders, women’s magazine editors, union activists, scientists, and religious leaders in a White House council to organize massive citizen support for the treaty. Their grassroots campaign turned public opinion around. The Senate passed the Test Ban Treaty by a large majority in September 1963.–James Douglass, from JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable