Article Details

Scottish Bishops' statement on Peace and Disarmament, 1982

Categories: Resources:Peacemaking, Resources:Nuclear Weapons | Published: 16/03/1982 | Views: 3933

Peace and Disarmament
CRAIGHEAD 16 March 1982

IT was with words of peace that the risen Christ greeted his disciples on the first Easter Day.

Peace is at the heart of the Christian message of redemption and responds to man's fundamental aspirations.

This Easter we call upon all men and women to work for genuine peace in the world. We have at present an atmosphere of uneasy peace in which a nuclear holocaust remains an ever present threat. Can we, who proclaim Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace, remain unperturbed at the frightening arms race of the super-powers? Are we prepared to risk the future of our world by gambling for peace with a nuclear deterrent? Yet while we share the moral dread and the deep perplexity of this choice, there are no facile solutions in sight. The Christian does not have special access to instant po¬litical wisdom nor yet any unchallengeable answer to this complex moral problem. There are in this matter special reasons for our perplexity.

First of all we have inherited in Catholic tradition the view that for the sake of justice war may be undertaken in extreme circumstances and waged under certain conditions.

But such justification was evolved in times when war was very different in kind and degree from what it is now. Pope Paul VI said in 1978 to the UN, “The question of war and peace pres¬ents itself today in new terms. It is not that the principles have changed but today war has at its disposal means which have immeasurably magnified its horror and its wickedness.” Our present Pope, John Paul II, at Hiroshima spoke of "a new world consciousness against war". The Church has long since affirmed that "every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and nature which merits firm and unequivocal con¬demnation" (Gaudium et Spes 80). Moreover, there are weapons which by their genetic effects are capable of inflicting damage even on unborn children as happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And even if there are weapons of so-called controlled capability which might not merit condemnation on the grounds of being indiscriminately destructive, nevertheless the escalatory consequences of their use and their long term effects would render their use morally unacceptable.

A further ground for perplexity is the lack of verifiable information about our government's preparations and intentions.

We do know that the policy is one of deterrence, but we do not know what measure of retaliation is contemplated should deterrence appear to fail.' While it may not be politic for government to disclose certain information, we should know whether a threat of retaliation with such weapons is likely to be implemented in the event of any attack or only in the case of a nuclear one. Whatever is done will be done in our name and, in a democracy, with our presumed agreement The conscience of a nation should not be compelled to hazard guesses against a background of an indefinite number of possibilities.

It is true that as long as there is no effective international authority capable of maintaining peace, a legitimate government cannot be denied the right of self-defence.

We are convinced, however, that if it is immoral to use these weapons it is also immoral to threaten their use. Some argue that the threat can be justified as the lesser of two evils. The crux of the problem is whether in any foreseeable circumstance a policy of self-defence based on the use or even the threat of use of these weapons of terrible destructiveness can ever be morally justified.
Yet, when all these grounds of hesitation and perplexity have been examined certain issues are clear to us as a matter of Christian faith and become a sign of hope to all people of goodwill.

Our faith teaches us that God is the source of our salvation. Therefore, we hope for and work towards the achievement of justice and peace in the world.

Our faith also teaches that God loves and offers salvation to all. We therefore do not accept a division of human beings into "allies" and "enemies". We are brothers and sisters and the earth is our common inheritance; we have a responsibility to share this world with everyone else, to pass it on uncontaminated, unpillaged, not despoiled, to future generations. So we have to rid ourselves of prejudice and mutual suspicion. We must totally reject any “arms race", any policy of revengeful slaughter, all greed and self-preservation at the cost of others.

The Church is already committed to the work of disarmament. In an intervention at the U.N. the Holy See urged that the arms race "be condemned unreservedly" because it is "a danger, an injustice, a theft from the poor and a folly". The Vatican Council urged that "all must work to put an end to the arms race and make a real beginning to disarmament" (G.S. 82).

Furthermore, the Church sees in the arms race "one of the greatest curses on the human race, and the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be tolerated" (G.S.82). Vast resources of materials, of manpower and of technology are being spent on the production of ever more terrible weapons of destruction, while at the same time millions of people are deprived of the most basic needs for human life, largely because of the failure to deploy such resources in the resolution of their problems. Too much energy has been spent on preparations for war, too little on making peace. We must redress the balance.

The Church has called upon her members and all men of good will to co-operate with the international agencies set up to facilitate co-operation between nations in the cause of world development and peace. "These stand forth", said the Fathers of the Council, "as the first attempts to lay international foundations under the whole human community for the solving of the critical problems of our age, the promotion of global progress, and the prevention of any kind of war. (They) deserve well of the human race" (G.S.84).

We do not find it surprising in the circumstances of the world today that there should be an increasing acceptance of pacifism and conscientious objection within Catholic thinking. For our part we unite ourselves with those Catholic Hierarchies in Europe and North America who urge a break¬through in disarmament by a specific reduction of arms. We also wish to associate ourselves with the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church in the views they have expressed on recent decisions regarding weapons deployment in this country. We exhort Catholics to be fully informed, to reflect on these serious questions, and to discuss in their communities the best way to proceed in this difficult matter of disarmament. In addition, we encourage them to work with those movements which are genuinely engaged in the pursuit of peace. We require that peace education be seen as an integral part of preaching in parishes and of teaching in schools.

Together with all men and women of good will we will work and pray for peace. All may not be able to accept our vision of faith, but we stand together in this anguishing situation.

Let us make our own the prayer said at every Mass:

"Lord Jesus Christ. you said to your apostles: 'I leave you peace. my peace I give you'. Look not on our sins. but on the faith of your Church. and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever:'


Print Bookmark and Share

Return to previous page