One prelate speaks out, urges Catholic preace-making

New political circumstances are giving rise to "great hope" for "dramatic and fundamental changes in U.S. nuclear weapons policies," said Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles in an address March 11 that marked the start of a new disarmament campaign by Pax Christi USA, the Catholic peace organization.

Zavala, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and bishop-president of Pax Christi, also called Catholics to see peacemaking as a "mandatory" vocation and argued that "Catholic social teaching and a vision of Gospel nonviolence can contribute to informing the policy debates and offer guidance for new directions for our nation with regard to war and peace."

In a speech delivered at the University of Great Falls in Montana, Zavala recalled the 1983 pastoral of the U.S. bishops, "The Challenge of Peace," and subsequent documents based on it, as well as the consistent condemnation of war by modern popes.

Zavala pointed to a speech in May 2005 by the Vatican's representative at the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, as marking a "sea change in Catholic moral teaching on nuclear weapons."

In the speech, Migliore questioned the morality of nuclear deterrence and said the Vatican acceptance of the strategy was conditioned on it being "only a step on the way toward progressive nuclear disarmament. The Holy See has never countenanced nuclear deterrence as a permanent measure, nor does it today when it is evident that nuclear deterrence drives the development of ever newer nuclear arms, thus preventing genuine nuclear disarmament."

Zavala cited a meeting last December in Paris in which international political, military and other leaders launched the disarmament initiative "Global Zero," and noted the joint statement by former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz with former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and former secretary of defense William Perry endorsing nuclear abolition. Zavala said, "We are in a new moment regarding nuclear disarmament."

He said he saw hope for such fundamental changes in U.S. policy as ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, "long-sought goals of taking deployed nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert status, negotiating a fissile materials cutoff treaty, and amending the Moscow Treaty to make its proposed cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals real and irreversible."

Tom Roberts is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is

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