With the arrival of Pope Francis to the United States on September 22, 2015 many expected the Pontiff to speak on the issue of nuclear proliferation during his appearances at a joint session of Congress and at the United Nations’ General Assembly. They were not disappointed.
In front of the 70th session of the United Nations’ General Assembly on Friday, September 25, 2015, the head of the Roman Catholic Church addressed the issue head-on:
“There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with a goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”
The Pope was on a four day tour of the United States appealing to a wide audience of Catholics: The United States is approximately 22% Catholic, while Congress is 30%. Other than nuclear disarmament, he also spoke out on issues such as climate change and poverty.
Although the Catholic Church has long been an advocate for a nuclear-free world, in the past they have acquiesced on the issue of nuclear deterrence, reluctantly tolerating the strategy as a method for conflict avoidance.
During the Cold War, the Catholic Church approved of nuclear deterrence merely as a step towards total disarmament. They realized that the Cold War was a crisis situation and that the level of threat was high enough to warrant such a strategy.
This makes the Pope’s strong rhetoric at the United Nations’ largest annual gathering even more astounding. Advocating for nuclear disarmament and denouncing any other strategy clearly demonstrates the Holy See’s changed opinion on the issue.
The Pontifex also reiterated his full support for the finalized Iran nuclear agreement stating that:
“The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience, and constancy.”
His endorsement of the Iran nuclear deal in front of the General Assembly was not entirely unexpected. In April, 2015, he endorsed the efforts of Iran and the P5+1 to reach a diplomatic solution to the issue during Easter Mass at the Vatican. Furthermore, when looking at previous statements made by Pope Francis, his ideological stance is quite clear. His first attempt to engage in the nuclear proliferation issue was during the United Nations General Assembly’s 68th Session, where he called for all states to be vocal and active on condemning the “continued possession of nuclear weapons” through the intervention of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nation, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt. Then, the message of the Holy See in December, 2014 to the “Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons” and the Pope’s past radio addresses re-emphasize the catastrophic nature and the enormous costs of nuclear weapons and demonstrate his commitment to non-proliferation and diplomatic solutions.
His speech comes at a critical moment: just a few short days after the final vote on the Iran agreement in Congress. The speech has the potential to bolster support for this historic diplomatic victory.
The Catholic Church believes in the necessity of nuclear disarmament because of its potential to result in unnecessary suffering, as well as its ability to spark unspeakable global violence. His speech appealed to the morality of humankind, urging Americans to strive for peace through justice; not through a balance of power.
Let us hope that Pope Francis’ appeal to the greater common good has its desired effect.