Chicago experts weigh in on pope’s call to dispose of nuclear weapons

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - SEPTEMBER 18: Pope Francis attends his weekly General Audience in St. Peter's Square on September 18, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pontiff called on Catholics together with other Christians to continue to pray for peace in the most trouble parts of the world. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)


By Katie Karalis

In light of the “mother of all bombs” dropped on an ISIS target in Afghanistan last Thursday, academics and nonviolence strategists alike are in agreement with Pope Francis’ call to the international community to adopt forward-looking strategies to promote the goal of peace and stability, questioning not only the existence of nuclear weapons but also the doctrine of deterrence.

“What Francis is doing is continuing a drift in recent Catholic moral thinking toward peace, which started with John XXIII, said Father John T. Pawlikowski, professor of social ethics and director of the Catholic-Jewish studies program at Catholic Theological Union. “I wouldn’t say that it’s an advocacy of total passivism, but it’s certainly moving away from not only nuclear weapons but just war as an instrument of security and survival.”

Mel Duncan, former executive director of Nonviolent Peaceforce, an organization that provides direct non-violent protection to civilians under threat of violent conflict and war, said there are more people displaced for longer periods of time because of violent conflict now than at any time since World War II—and that number is growing.

“We have a team right now that is right between Erbil and Mosul, and they were reporting Wednesday morning that 250,000 people are expected to flee Mosul in the next two weeks,” said Duncan, senior professional lecturer of peace, justice and conflict studies at DePaul University. “If we engage by dropping ‘the mother of all bombs’ on a country [Afghanistan] that we have not declared war in the name of fighting ISIS, we are going to have a lot more war and a lot more blowback.”

At  the United Nations  conference in late March,   Pope Francis said peace cannot be established on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, adding that nuclear weapons offer only a “false sense of security.”

Ken Butigan, co-founder of Campaign Nonviolence, a long-term movement for peace and nonviolence free from war, poverty, racism, and the climate crisis, emphasized that the Vatican is more fervently rejecting deterrence allowing for the continuation of nuclear stockpiles by the nuclear nations.

“The nuclear signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1970 are obligated in good faith to disarm their nuclear weapons,” said Butigan, professional lecturer of peace, justice and conflict studies at DePaul University. “Here it is, 47 years later, and that hasn’t happened.”

Butigan was a part of a global team working with the Vatican to organize the “Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference,” receiving a warm response from Pope Francis after taking place April 2016 in Rome.

William Cavanaugh, professor of Catholic studies and director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University, said he believes violence is diminished when we not only try to make ourselves more secure but when we make our enemies more secure.

“We were told that the last war, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, was going to usher in an era of peace and democracy and prosperity for the Middle East,” Cavanaugh said, adding that instead the invasion unleashed chaos and established the conditions for the creation of ISIS. “War did not work last time, but we are constantly being told that the next war is going to fix what the last war broke.”

Photo at top: At the United Nations last month,  Pope Francis said nuclear weapons offer a “false sense of security,” serving as an ineffective deterrent to international conflicts. (Franco Origlia/Getty Images via Creative Commons)