By Daniel Rosenberg, Georgetown University ‘18
Since Pope John XXIII gave his famous Pacem in Terris encyclical (or policy statement), in April of 1963, the Roman Catholic Church and the nuclear disarmament movement have been continually entangled. The Church is interested in nuclear disarmament for a couple of reasons. The first is that one of the main tenets of the Church is promoting peace, and although some argue that nuclear weapons are a necessary component of global peace, they clearly are instruments of war. The second is that nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to humanity. These are weapons of immense destructive force, capable of wiping out millions of people and profoundly harming the environment, now and for future generations. The threat of such a calamity occurring, whether during a nuclear exchange, or even by accident, it is too great a risk for humanity to bear.
The Holy See itself has been active on issues of disarmament for decades, primarily through its role as an observer state to the United Nations. However, in the past year, Pope Francis and the Holy See have taken on even greater responsibility in the nuclear conversation.
The UN General Assembly elected to make the Holy See a fully participatory and voting member of the UN for the duration of the recent Conference on a Legal Ban of Nuclear Weapons. I attended the meetings of that conference, both in March and June, and I witnessed the Holy See at work. The Church did not shy away from its newfound responsibility, and leaders took part in high-level discussions between states and made a variety of interventions on the UN floor. With the nuclear-weapons-possessing states, NATO and a variety of other U.S. allies all boycotting these meetings, it was up to smaller states like the Holy See to take the lead in crafting the treaty.