Text of England Bishop Seeking Refinements on Nuclear Weapons

This is a translation of the speech by Archbishop George Andrew Beck of Liverpool, England, delivered Nov. 10 during the Second Vatican Council discussion of Paragraph 25 of Schema 13 on the Church in the Modern World.

I speak in the name of a number of bishops from England and Wales. About Paragraph 25 of the schema titled De Pace Firmanda, I wish to make three short points.

  1. In the first place, we agree that the text of the schema is generally satisfactory, being both balanced and objective. We agree, however, as has been said for other points, that the presentation of the council statement is set out better in the appendix than in the text which we are discussing.

Great clarity and exactness are needed in Paragraph 2, p. 31, especially 11, 4-10, in connection with the use of nuclear weapons from which the present problem of peace and war derives its gravity and urgency: since, in the words of Pope John XXIII, “people live in constant fear lest the storm that every moment threatens should break upon them with dreadful violence.” The council must, of course, maintain the traditional doctrine that indiscriminate destruction in which the direct killing of the innocent is sought and achieved must be condemned as murder and as something intrinsically evil. There is place in the schema for some reference to the teaching of Pope Pius XII with regard to biological and chemical warfare which do not receive mention in the text.

The draft statement does in fact repeat the condemnation of Pope Pius XII and of Pope John XXIII (Pacem in Terris, A.A.S. 1963, pp. 286-7), of any weapon whose effect cannot be estimated and controlled. I would suggest, however, that it is important to make clear that this is not a universal condemnation of the use of nuclear weapons. There may well exist objects which in a just war of defense are legitimate targets of nuclear weapons even of vast force. To attack a ballistic missile or a satellite missile in the outer atmosphere would, for example, be a legitimate act of defense and with just proportion duly preserved, it might require the use of a weapon of vast power. If, as I think is correct, legitimate targets for nuclear weapons may in fact exist, the council should not condemn the possession and use of these weapons as essentially and necessarily evil.

  1. In the second place, we must remember that responsibility for the use of nuclear weapons and for all decisions concerning peace and war rests with those who exercise supreme authority in the state. The council has a duty to express sympathy and consideration for those who carry the heavy burden of this responsibility. The government of a country has the duty to protect not only the lives and the property of its citizens but even more the spiritual and cultural values, which are the inheritance of a people or a nation. The government of a country has a grave duty to do everything in its power to promote justice and prevent war. It must do this by peaceful means to the limit of its power but it may be true that in certain circumstances peace can be assured only by what has been called “the balance of terror” by the threat of the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against unjust aggression. Let us not too readily condemn these governments which succeed and which have succeeded in keeping peace however tentative in the world by the use of such means. Millions of people owe them gratitude. Let the council make clear, therefore, that it does not demand of governments that they decide on a unilateral abandonment of nuclear weapons merely because of the very real and possibly proximate danger that these weapons may be used in an unjust and immoral way. To turn the other cheek is a counsel of perfection addressed to individuals, not to governments who have a grave duty to defend the citizens entrusted to their authority.
  1. In the third place, I hope that the text of the schema, in 11, 25-35, will be strengthened. The first duty and one of the utmost gravity for all governments is to work in an active and practical way for the establishment of an international order in which war is outlawed as an instrument of policy.

The council must repeat the teaching of Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII about the duty of all governments to work toward organic, progressive and mutually agreed disarmament, so that in Pope John XXIII’s words weapons may be reduced on both sides, simultaneously.

The council must emphasize that equal security must be given to all peoples (Pope Pius XII, Christmas message, 1955). Above all, it must emphasize the duty which all men must accept of striving to establish the order of justice among nations, and of setting up juridical and administrative machinery for the peaceful solution of international differences.

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