Catholic Bishops and Scholars from Europe and the United States Renew Efforts on Nuclear Disarmament

Author: Gerard Powers

On May 24th and 25th, 40 bishops, Catholic scholars, and policy specialists from nine countries gathered in London to identify issues that need to be addressed to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, especially largely unexamined theological and moral issues. The meeting, which included a public event as well private meetings, also highlighted policy issues on which religious leaders and ethicists have a comparative advantage or can make a distinctive contribution.

In an effort to support and enhance this religious and moral voice, the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the London Global Gateway joined the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, The Rt. Hon. the Lord Browne of Ladyton and The Rt. Hon. the Lord McFall of Alcluith, in hosting this Colloquium on Catholic Approaches to Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament.  

“The technical strategic debate about nuclear proliferation and disarmament is critically important, but it must be guided by moral considerations,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols (Westminster), President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW).

 “Global leaders are responsible for the security of their citizens, but faith communities have a responsibility to engage when it comes to matters that challenge and threaten our humanity and indeed, our very survival,” said Des Browne, the Rt. Hon. the Lord Browne of Ladyton, who serves as Vice Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and served as UK Secretary of State for Defence. 

Gerard Powers, Director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies at the Kroc Institute and lead organizer of the colloquium, explained that the purpose of the Colloquium was “to enable bishops, scholars, and policy experts from Europe and the United States to explore ways to strengthen the Catholic community’s response to Pope Francis’ renewed calls for nuclear disarmament in light of new policy developments.”

This London Colloquium is connected to the U.S. initiative, Revitalizing Catholic Engagement on Nuclear Disarmament, led by the Kroc Institute, to empower a new generation of Catholic bishops, scholars, professionals and students to address the ethical and policy challenges of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons.  

At the opening public event on May 24th, held at the University of Notre Dame’s Global Gateway, Maryann Cusimano Love of The Catholic University of America urged that “the Church and policymakers go beyond the debate on the ethics of nuclear deterrence and consider nuclear disarmament as a challenge of peacebuilding.”  

Noting the fact that crucial debates about nuclear weapons are largely confined to elites, Bishop Marc Stenger (Troyes), President of Pax Christi France, emphasized the need for Church leaders “to foster among the general public a broader awareness of the challenges to peace presented by nuclear weapons by providing space for an open dialogue on nuclear deterrence.” 

Colloquium participants included David Cortright, Policy Director of the Kroc Institute; Kelsey Davenport (Kroc MA 2011) of the Arms Control Association; Bishop Stephan Ackermann (Trier), President of the German Commission for Justice and Peace; Bishop Werner Freistetter, Military Ordinary of Austria; Fr. Bryan Hehir of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; Patricia Lewis of Chatham House; Fr. Peter-John Pearson, Director of the Parliamentary Liaison Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference; Sylvie Bukhari-de Pontual of the Catholic Institute of Paris; Bishop William Nolan (Galloway), President of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland; Bishop Declan Lang (Clifton), Chairman of the CBCEW’s Department of International Affairs; Bishop Oscar Cantú (Las Cruces, Chairman) and Bishop Robert McElroy (San Diego) of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Paolo Conversi of the Holy See's Secretariat of State; Fred Frederickson, Director of NATO’s Nuclear Policy Directorate; and Charles Reed, senior policy adviser for the Church of England.  

This event was sponsored by the Kroc Institute; the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales; Deutsche Bischofskonferenz; Justice et Paix, Conférence des évêques de France; the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace; Institut fur Theologie und Frieden; the Catholic Peacebuilding Network; Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; and the Nuclear Threat Initiative.  

The wider initiative has included a major Colloquium at Stanford hosted by former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Defense Secretary William Perry (April 2014); a symposium at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters (September 2014), and public events at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs (May 2015) and in Washington tied to the visit of Pope Francis (September 2015).   

Photo: Marcin Mazur

Contact: Gerard Powers,