Pope to list nuclear weapons as 'immoral' in Catholic manual

AP, Kyodo

After meeting with victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while in Japan, Pope Francis has said he is planning to change official Catholic Church teaching to declare the use and possession of atomic weapons as “immoral.”

The pledge makes clear that his rejection of the Cold War-era doctrine of deterrence is to be official church policy.

Francis had declared the possession of nuclear weapons immoral on Sunday in Hiroshima, during an emotional encounter with survivors of the U.S. atomic bomb.

On Tuesday, during a news conference as he traveled home from Japan, Francis indicated that his Hiroshima address should be considered part of his magisterium, or official church teaching.

“This must go in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” he said, referring to the published compendium of official church teaching.

“Not just the use, also the possession,” he said. “Because an accident of possession, or the insanity of a leader or someone, can destroy humanity.”

Francis first articulated his opposition to the doctrine of deterrence in 2017 during a Vatican conference, when he said the possession of nuclear weapons was “to be condemned.”

The shift upended three decades of the Vatican’s tacit acceptance of nuclear arsenals. Starting in 1982, St. John Paul II had held that deterrence could be morally acceptable in the interim as long as it was used as a step toward mutual, verifiable disarmament.

In the ensuing years, however, the Holy See has watched as arms control treaties collapsed, new nuclear powers emerged and the policy of assured mutual destruction resulted in a permanent stockpiling of bombs.

Francis also went further Tuesday in his comments on nuclear energy, saying that he would rule out its use until scientists can offer “total security” to ensure that accidents, natural disasters and “crazed” individuals won’t destroy humanity and the environment with nuclear fallout.

Offering what he described as his “personal opinion,” Francis went beyond the “concern” he had expressed in public a day earlier during a meeting with survivors of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, where he noted a call by Japan’s Catholic bishops to abolish nuclear power outright.

The Japanese government strongly backs nuclear energy despite the 2011 “triple disaster,” in which three Fukushima nuclear reactors partially melted down after an earthquake triggered a tsunami. The disaster spewed nuclear fallout across the region, and at one point forced the evacuation of 160,000 people.

“I have a personal opinion,” Francis said. “I would not use nuclear energy as long as there’s not a total security on the use.”

Francis stayed in Japan for four days from Saturday. During the visit he called for the elimination of nuclear weapons in addresses to Nagasaki and Hiroshima — the two Japanese cities that were devastated by U.S. atomic bombings in the closing days of World War II.

Visiting both cities was his desire, the pope said, adding that his trip to Nagasaki, where Christianity took root in Japan, was especially “touching.”

Francis was elected as the Roman Catholic pontiff in 2013. His trip to Japan was the first papal visit to the Asian country in 38 years.