Cardinal calls Trident "immoral"

29 June 2009

Cardinal calls Trident weapons "immoral"

In an article in today's Times newspaper,  
Cardinal Keith O'Brien will describe the Trident weapons system as a "weapon of mass destruction" and argue that possessing it is "morally reprehensible". Scotland's Catholic Bishops issued a statement in April 2006 condemning the Trident system,   their stance was subsequently endorsed by the Vatican, when Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, wrote to cardinal O'Brien endorsing the Bishops' April 2006 declaration.

In his article, the Cardinal states; :In any and all circumstances the use of a nuclear weapon would be immoral. Since, to use these weapons would be immoral, to threaten their use is immoral and to hold them with a view to threatening their use is also immoral."
Cardinal O'Brien adds; "We not only violate moral principles with our nuclear weapons but undermine our moral authority in the world." he concludes; "Rejecting Trident, not in 2024 but right now, will bring economic dividends at home and give moral leadership abroad. It would allow us, at last, to stand on the moral high ground and to invite the nuclear armed nations of the world to join us there."


The full text of the Cardinal's article is shown below.

A study guide to Nuclear weapons produced by the Justice & peace Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland is available as a download here;

Peter Kearney
Catholic Media Office
5 St. Vincent Place
G1 2DH
0141 221 1168  


A recent 'Times' Editorial on the Trident weapons system noting that
"national defence is one of the cardinal duties of the statesman" caused
me to reflect on the moral duties of a Cardinal.

In the current debate surrounding the replacement of Trident, we have
heard a great deal in this newspaper and elsewhere about the financial,
diplomatic, military and political arguments relevant to retention or
rejection. By contrast we have heard precious little about the moral
arguments involved. Sometimes the debate around a particular topic
become so confused and nuanced that the moral considerations of any
decision can be lost in the fog.

In the context of Trident renewal, the moral case is really quite
simple. It cuts through and across any others. Because it is simple, let me put
it simply. In any and all circumstances the use of a nuclear weapon
would be immoral. Since, to use these weapons would be immoral, to
threaten their use is immoral and to hold them with a view to
threatening their use is also immoral.

We not only violate moral principles with our nuclear weapons but
undermine our moral authority in the world. We were prepared to engage
in a brutal war with Iraq to ensure that nation did not possess any
weapons of mass destruction. We did this in the belief that possession
of such weapons is morally reprehensible, which it is, unless of course
we possess them. Our duality and moral hypocrisy on this matter fatally
undermined our motivation in Iraq.

We must simply ask ourselves, 'are nuclear weapons useable?' The
inherently indiscriminate and devastatingly powerful destructive force
of a nuclear weapon makes it qualitatively different from any other type
of ordnance. Their first use, under any circumstances whatsoever, would
be immoral and a crime against God and humanity. Likewise, a
counter-strike in retaliation would be just as immoral, even more so,
because it would be motivated not by defence but by the hollow and
hellish vengeance of the vanquished. It is perhaps no coincidence that
one of the British Trident fleet is named HMS Vengeance.

In war a primary duty of the military is to protect the innocent and
non-combatants. This foundational aspect of military conflict through
the ages is brutally and utterly violated when a nuclear weapon is
Even a tactical deployment would constitute such a violation, yet
Britain has no tactical nuclear weapons. Instead 200 identical warheads
leased from the USA and quartered for the most part in Scottish waters
comprise its strategic arsenal. Each one is eight times more powerful
than the bomb, which devastated Hiroshima.

We all accept that threatening behaviour is a crime. In the domestic
context it instils fear and mistrust and destroys relationships, so too
in the international military context. To the Christian and to most
people of faith threatening someone with such awesomely destructive
power runs utterly counter to the call of God. A call to love, peace and
reconciliation, not destruction, domination and force.

I join this debate as a Christian Minister a Catholic Bishop and a human
being who believes in the dignity and sanctity of human life. This
pro-life message is at the heart of the Catholic Church and is one the
Church champions, 'in season and out of season'. No one can uphold the
teachings of Christ unless they speak out in defence of life, and the
mass killing of innocent victims at any time and in any place.

Life, must mean life in all its fullness and at every stage, from
conception to natural death, and any premature taking of life at any
stage has deep moral implications. This is why the Catholic Church
opposes abortion, is immersed in international development, stands
against capital punishment, works to bring an end to the scandal of
child soldiers, the trade in small arms, and so much more. It is why the
Church has consistently opposed the development of nuclear weapons, and
why it demands their abolition, now more than ever.

None of what I say comes from me alone, but rather from the highest
moral authority in the Catholic Church; the Pope and the bishops working
together and in Council. The last Council was Vatican II over 40 years
ago, its teaching on this subject rings down through the decades: "Any
act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or
of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God
and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation."

This is moral teaching of the clearest kind, and my duty as bishop and
Cardinal is to pass that teaching on. To act morally, to do the right
thing, often takes courage, and sometimes means taking a stand that
others do not agree with or accept. That is the test of leadership.
Britain now has a golden opportunity to truly lead and to turn its back
on the path of mass destruction.

In doing so we can assist others, particularly Russia and the USA who
have shown much more willingness to be courageous than Britain has in
recent months, but who have so much further to go to disarm than we do.

Rejecting Trident, not in 2024 but right now, will bring economic
dividends at home and give moral leadership abroad. It would allow us,
at last, to stand on the moral high ground and to invite the nuclear
armed nations of the world to join us there.

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