Disarmament Is a Pro-Life Issue

The recent and unanimous vote of the U.N. Security Council endorsing nuclear disarmament is cause for rejoicing in Catholic America. … Continued

The recent and unanimous vote of the U.N. Security Council endorsing nuclear disarmament is cause for rejoicing in Catholic America. Disarmament is a pro-life issue and the Security Council’s September session with President Obama as chairman made a significant advance beyond the perennial rhetoric about atomic weapons. If and when Obama’s effort at the United Nations’ session becomes a policy to be endorsed politically in Congress, I think pro-life Catholics will be bound by conscience to support it.

Nuclear disarmament has long been a feature of papal teaching. The church’s prophetic voice against amassing nuclear weapons was often a lonely one during the Cold War when mutually assured destruction kept both the Soviet and Western blocs in stalemate. But peace is more than stalemate. Pope Benedict XVI in his 2006 Day of Peace message wrote: “In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims.” The rising danger to the world today is from proliferation of nuclear weapons among volatile nations seeking advantage in localized conflicts. Terrorists also seek such weapons by clandestine sale or outright theft.

The outlines of the resolution produced by President Obama’s statecraft cover these main points:

1) no proliferation to countries now without nuclear weapons;
2) reduction of the arsenals by those nations with the weapons;
3) strict enforcement of the test ban treaty; and
4) international verification of all of the above.

It is hard to conceive of any opposition to such a comprehensive treaty, yet given the unyielding partisanship in the U.S. public square, somebody will likely invent a reason to sidestep peacemaking. Hopefully that will NOT include Catholics who say that “pro-life” means abortion alone and not disarmament. In Catholic teaching, EVERY human life is of infinite value, whether it is the million babies aborted every year or the ten million people who would die in 30 seconds after a nuclear attack. The seamless garment of Church’s pro-life stance covers all human beings.

Support for disarmament is a moral imperative according to Archbishop Thomas O’Brien of Baltimore, a member of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. Speaking to chiefs of U.S. Strategic Command, the Archbishop not only clarified the unequivocal Catholic teaching on disarmament, but cited how the papal encyclicals have also recognized the United Nations as a fitting instrument for international accords. It is extraneous to Catholic teaching whether Obama’s rescission of a Bush decision to place missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic was warranted or if it was the master stroke that brought Russia in line for nuclear disarmament. Still less can any Catholic argue that because President Obama upholds the law permitting abortions (he is bound to do so by the U.S. Constitution, as were Republican presidents before him) he cannot be supported on any issue. Arcane disputations about “surrender of U.S. sovereignty to the U.N.” offer Catholics no escape from moral responsibility either.

Given the importance of this pro-life issue of disarmament, what should be the reaction if a Catholic politician would oppose President Obama’s resolution? I have never been a fan of withholding communion on any issue, even a pro-life one. Because politicians are always seeking votes, mobilizing Catholic America around nuclear disarmament may be more than enough to sway politicians tempted to make disarmament a purely political opportunity. That goes for non-Catholics too.

I would hope that our bishops and pastors decide to spend as much effort in supporting disarmament as they have in organizing dissent from Roe v. Wade. Why not include this issue in Respect Life Sunday this October 4 in a parish’s Prayer of the Faithful? Why not make the annual March for Life every January into a rally for nuclear disarmament?

I feel strongly that it time for Catholics — whether Republicans or Democrats, whether conservative or liberal — to put aside the partisan labels that divide us. Catholic America should be above the bitter divisions in secular politics. Let us show our unity as Catholics, faithful in both citizenship and belief, and make nuclear disarmament the common cause of Catholic America, ASAP.


Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • ccnl1

    The Catholic/Christian desire for nuclear disarmament is a “no-brainer”. It requires no expenditures by the Catholic Church of the USA. Unfortunately, the USA’s Immoral Majority now controls said weapons. Now that will require continual vigilance and expenditures. Too bad Anthony cannot said the same message to the Catholic Church in Russia, China, Iran, Israel, India, the UK, France and Pakistan.

  • kiler616

    didn’t you guys know that life is only sacred while it is in the womb?…after that..all bets are off…but hold on…a nuke can wipe out a baby in a womb…you guys better figure it out or there will be some sssplaining to do!!!!

  • delusional1

    Nuclear disarmament is a pro-life issue? How many lives will be lost this year if we don’t disarm? What about next year. How many lives next year? Why stop at nuclear disarmament, lets ban all bombs, tanks, howitzers, grenades, RPGs, etc. The problem with this argument is that only the ‘good guys’ will comply. Then just like the handgun bans, only the terrorists will have nukes. Not the world I want to pass on to my children.

  • revbookburn

    This is a good message. Unfortunately, most people who routinely “greet” pregnant women trying to go into the locial clinic (“pro-lifers”) have consistently embraced the Reagans, Gingrichs, Bushes, and far-right-wing groups (including hardcore racists). They would never support the ideas put forth here. Rev. Bookburn – Radio Volta

  • ConcernedInBoston

    Nice argument. Unfortunately, the anti-abortion movement seems to be driven mainly by a desire to maintain authority over women’s sexuality, not a genuine concern for life.And the people who want to control women’s lives tend to be the authoritarian who also love big weapons.The anti-abortion movement would gain credence by casting out these authoritarians, but it would also collapse from lack of support. Thus anti-abortion and pro-war will ever go hand in hand.

  • JoeSchmoe06

    Although I generally appreciate Stevens-Arroyo’s discussions, this post seems to be beneath the level of rational discourse.Just because some thing has the power to affect a life does not mean that we should frame it as a pro-life question. Knives are used to kill people, perhaps the “pro-life” thing to do is to ban those. Oh, and cigarettes, cheeseburgers, and alcohol, too. Perhaps no one should drive–after all, automobile accidents kill far more people than nuclear weapons do.By all means, let’s air all these issues too–because what’s more exciting than cheapening the abortion issue?

  • diakonis

    In 1983 the US Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” In it, they argued that the immorality of nuclear war was founded on the same basis as the immorality of abortion, that the taking of innocent life can never be justified.The Church has always be consistent in its teaching that life is to be respected from conception to natural death. (Read what John Paul II said about capital punishment sometime.)

  • JoeSchmoe06

    @Diakonis: you are right to focus on the innocent nature of the life that is taken. Abortion always takes an innocent life–it is the nature of the thing.However, nuclear weapons do not inherently threaten innocent life…it’s just when you target them or drop them on civilian populations that you commit a moral wrong. An ICBM targeted at an enemy city is probably a moral wrong. But what about a strategic nuclear weapon, targeted at a military installation, to be used if a last ditch defense during a war that complies with Catholic Just War theory? Where’s the evil there?Also — on missile defense: a robust, fully-functioning missile defense would mean less reliance on MAD as a strategy, and would drastically reduce the likelihood that WMD could be used on one’s neighbor. It is also much more likely to be successful than trying to stuff the nuclear genie back in the bottle. Why are we not talking about support for missile defense as a “moral imperative?”

  • granite78

    I would argue that nuclear deterrent has saved lives rather than taken them. Read history – deterrence worked, and probably prevented the horror of WW III. I read this weekend that the Russians plan to use tactical nukes to protect their far east rather then invest in conventional forces. They apparently are amused by the President’s talk of disarmanent and have no intention of playing beyond the point of scoring public relation points.Disarmament works only if all the owners of nukes decide to play. Right now agreements are aimed to reduce strategic stockpiles that the US and Russia have. How about the tactical and strategic stocks owned by China? What about the tactical and operational stockpiles that exist in Israel, Pakistan, India. I don’t see any of those nations agreeing to a disarmanent agenda.If rogue states, such as N Korea and Iran, see a reduced threat of retaliation by US they may be MORE inclined to use their nuclear weapons. Disarmanence has a seductive sound, but it wholly impractical in the world we live in.

  • DagnyTaggart

    Not all Catholics are pro-life.

  • agujaloca

    “The Church has always be consistent in its teaching that life is to be respected from conception to natural death.”

  • stopthewar

    talk to uncle Sam first please,

  • grispa

    I think it if pretty useless to have thousand of ICBMs capable of taking out virtually everyone in a nation like Russia just because others keep them.Paolo Gris

  • pgould1

    Much like our young President, any Catholic that thinks doing away with nuclear weapons is a reasonable solution to the world we currently live in is surely an international rube of biblical proportions. Why don’t we all just repeat the Kellogg-Briand treaty of 1928 and simply declare future wars illegal.That will fix em.Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.

  • djah

    The hierarchy will not support this. The bishops have become more interested in ideology and secular matters than theology and spiritual matters. They are merely an interest group within the Republican Party at this point.

  • 12thgenamerican

    how about this,the U.N. changes its stance on abortion and catholics will change their stand on nukes. this will start saving lives right now.

  • rw11

    I note that the article refers to the fact that “in Catholic teaching, EVERY human life is of infinite value, whether it is the million babies aborted every year or the ten million people who would die in 30 seconds after a nuclear attack. The seamless garment of Church’s pro-life stance covers all human beings”.With this in mind, might I suggest that you stop wasting time worrying about 10m people who might die in the unlikely event of a nuclear war?What about all those unfertilised eggs? They could have been little babies too!! I say – boycott Tampax!And all that wasted sperm. There’s billions of potential little kiddies right there.Why preach abstinence? We need to get those eggs and sperm together. Anything less is murder.And don’t forget god, the great abortionist, killing all those little babies through spontaneous abortions.In any event, why are you so worried about abortion and deaths in nuclear war? Don’t the little babies and the nuked adults go straight to the heavenly paradise in the sky? Isn’t that the ultimate destination? Why suffer here on earth?

  • jakesfriend1

    “Disarmament Is a Pro-Life Issue”Yeah, I guess that would be an indirect way of saying I favor people living versus getting vaporized. Anybody that agree’s every yahoo has access to a weapon that could entirely obliterate entire civilizations probably does not consider humanity as anything more than expendable. We have come too far to throw this whole thing away just because ‘The Jones’ have them, why shouldn’t I? This mindset allows for too many variables and not enough safeguards. These are more than defensive postures people are taking and we need to consider worst case scenario’s. I hope we come to our senses and dismantle every nuclear warhead in the future. Sign me: One could only hope common sense prevails.

  • sterlinggo1

    God has a special position in his brain for Catholics. My people are locked in a continuum of mysteries, however, Catholics have always been pro-life supporters.Antonio the Sun

  • thebump

    There is absolutely no moral imperative to follow a dimwitted lunatic with a messiah complex.

  • sdsurfer

    Sure, disarmament is a pro-life issue. And when the lion lays down with the lamb we can get rid of the nukes. Who thinks of these fantasies? I mean wow! You would have to be quite a moron buy into this one. All regimes are NOT equal. Let’s go all the way. I say gun powder is evil too. Let’s run around with Samurai swords. But they can’t be sharp, that might hurt someone.

  • tbrucia

    Religion has nothing to do with ethics… religions simply reflect the minds of their members. Catholics (just like their Protestant brethren) could care less about what their sacred books, hierarchy, traditions, and purported values are… they do what they want to do, and believe exactly what they choose to…. if the ‘teachings of the Church’ are inconvenient or devalue such ‘higher values’ as money, power, nationalism, etc, then the membership simply says, ‘the heck with that stuff’…. it has always been so and always will be so….

  • tpb2

    Great thinking! By this logic one could argue that pro-abortion rights Catholics should be conscience bound to oppose nuclear disarmament. Mr. Stevens-Arroyo’s embrace of the “culture of life” is incomplete, insincere, and hypocrital. Outside of that, I thought it was a wonderful post.

  • SouthStar

    Yeah! I agreed with you totally, absolutely and unequivocally!!!

  • ccnl1

    Once again:The Catholic/Christian desire for nuclear disarmament is a “no-brainer”. It requires no expenditures by the Catholic Church of the USA. Unfortunately, the USA’s Immoral Majority now controls said weapons. Now that will require continual vigilance and expenditures. Too bad Anthony cannot said the same message to the Catholic Church in Russia, China, Iran, Israel, India, the UK, France and Pakistan.Hopefully, god will send an asteroid our way real soon so that we can put everyone’s nukes to good use. Nukes by the way are also a good source of fuel for atomic power plants and most of our dismantled nukes are used for this purpose.

  • rw11

    I note that the article refers to the fact that “in Catholic teaching, EVERY human life is of infinite value, whether it is the million babies aborted every year or the ten million people who would die in 30 seconds after a nuclear attack. The seamless garment of Church’s pro-life stance covers all human beings”.

  • Delongl

    First, President Obama did not invent those principles. They are the principles of the anti-proliferation treaties of the 1950s.Second, the disagreement is not from people who want to blow up the world. The opposition believes that other policies will make it less likely that there will be a nuclear war. So the supposed voting instructions are not based on pro-life goals, but rather on a claim that one side has a better crystal ball to predict the future.

  • timscanlon

    Disarmament is the best choice of any nation. It’s the best long term military option too. No one wins in world wars, much less nuclear ones.The more we can get rid of these awful devices, the more funds get freed up to save people and better societies. It’s that simple.If anything, the use of nuclear energy should be encouraged for power generation.There’s a whole lot of rational basis for wanting arms reduction. It is so basic in so many ways that elevating it as a goal to the realm of faith should not be needed. That’s also true of reducing the need for abortion, but outlawing it is not something I can agree with either for very rational and basic reasons…If that’s what it takes though for people to want to do something about a real horror that threatens all living people, hey I am all for it.The living, and the world, needs a whole lot more help than the “unborn” do. This is one of the areas, as well as like child hunger in America, that could use some of the money that people pour into anti-abortion causes.Christians, Muslims, and Jews all have a very long way to go before they manage to religiously impress me in any way. They could start by not killing each other off since ostensibly they all share the same “God”. It just gets real fuzzy down the road some, and then they argue… Then the sticks, spears, swords, arrows, cannon, guns, bombs, and nuclear weapons come out to play.

  • Independent109

    As the global population continues to grow and will double in 35 years, over population will be a severe problem in the near term. It is reckless for Catholics to continue to advocate for large families in a race to compete to be the largest religion.

  • pgr88

    For the apologist Stevens-Arroyo, PRO-LIFE means pro-environment, anti-nukes, pro-socialized medicine – anything at allBut it does NOT mean PRO-LIFE!

  • Cthulhu3

    Yankeesfan1 wrote:”So when are you going to write the article urging all pro-disarmament Catholics to join in the fight to protect innocent unborn babies from death by abortion?”Great question for Mr. Stevens-Arroyo! Thanks for putting it so succinctly. It is odd how such issues as nuclear disarmament are no-brainer, knee-jerk positions for Stevens-Arroyo who believes in the sanctity of all life, but the question of abortion is “oh so nuanced” and “complex”. Odd, isn’t, how he is doctrinaire on this issue but “nuanced” on other pro-life issues.

  • LeszX

    Of course, Mr. Stevens-Arroyo is right on the nuclear arms issue. A weapon that would destroy thousands of lives indiscriminately can never be used. Even the threat to use such a weapon is a grave sin.However, I don’t know from which orifice he pulled out the notion that President Obama is obliged by the Constitution to support abortion. The 5th Amendment states in part, “.. nor shall any person .. be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. The 14th states, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”.Seems to me very clear that far from supporting “the law permitting abortions”, President Obama has an obligation to use the power of his office to prevent the killing of pre-born children.

  • norriehoyt

    I’m not persuaded that nuclear disarmament is a good idea.It may well be that the “balance of terror” brought about by the existence of nuclear weapons has prevented World War III.Cast your mind back to 1945-1950. If the United States didn’t have its atomic bombs, Stalin’s Soviet Union might well have acted to conquer Western Europe.

  • MarieDevine

    Nuclear weapons represent a threat of loss of life. If they are calling this a pro-life issue to gather support, then they should change their abortion policy to pro-life since around the world it consistently kills thousands of innocent babies in the womb each month. Then we can believe they are concerned with pro-life issues.REDUCING nuclear weapons is not security. The same threats continue. The only solution is to end nuclear energy for energy and weapons. We do not need nuclear waste that will someday leak from containers even in the most secure bunkers or waste that could be blown up in transit. We are going the wrong way. God promises peace to those who follow His ways. That is the strategy for peace we need to use. The Qur’an says to follow the whole Bible and all God has sent down to us; Jesus said to live by every word of God. We should have peace with God if we turn to IT IS WRITTEN instead of religious leaders and commentaries.

  • usapdx


  • justillthen

    One of the things that is amazing to me is that conservative and pro-life, (that would mean anti-abortion specifically), people endlessly make abortion the pivotal point, and the obstacle, in any debate. They in fact use anti-abortion arguments to derail debate, as opposed to adding to debate or arguing on the merits of whatever the topic may be. Here the position of Mr. Stevens-Arroyo is that nuclear disarmament is morally a pro-life position. OK. What exactly is the problem with that statement? If someone takes a “pro-life” stance then where exactly do they have issue with that statement? Nuclear arms are decidedly death related. Is not then nuclear disarmament an action in the support of life?How about you guys try to argue on disarmament, and avoid scratching your anti-abortion itch as a tactic to distract from the actual topic at hand. It would be so appreciated, and more honest.This is not a debate on abortion, but conservatives here are not only inserting abortion into arms control, but are doing so as a way of refuting Stevens-Arroyo and his argument. Granted he is at fault by including “Pro-Life” in the title, but that is a result of the excessive injection of the word in so many debates that it is almost default.It is so hypocritical that many conservatives tout and toot and honk on abortion to prance about how they are righteous and God fearing and morally superior, while under their breath and with their votes support the use of our military to export death around the globe. Support death penalty and cheer when ‘enemies’ die, and hold onto the nuclear trigger. This is co contra Jesus, in my view.Nuclear disarmament is, on the other hand, a decidedly Jesus action. Or are there some Jesus People here that think that He would be against nuclear disarmament? My guess is yes, considering the warped perspectives that many so called Christians think of Jesus and His Message.

  • ccnl1

    Jesus message?? Most of these so called messages are simply myths and embellishments written by P, M, M, L, and J. So lets give credit to the real messengers!!!!

  • ccnl1

    Jesus message?? Most of these so called messages are simply myths and embellishments written by P, M, M, L, and J. So lets give credit to the real messengers!!!!.

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