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.