July 19, 2009

Necessary discrimination: the goal of nuclear disarmament

Cardinal George's Schedule

  1. July 19: 10:30 a.m., Sunday Mass, St. Ambrose
  2. July 20: 7 p.m., Mass, Consecration of a Virgin, St. Michael the Archangel
  3. July 21: 10 a.m., Episcopal Council, Residence
  4. July 22: 2 p.m., Installation Mass of Most Reverend George Lucas as Archbishop of Omaha, Neb.
  5. July 23: 9 a.m., Management Meeting, Quigley Center
  6. July 24: 6:30 p.m., Noche de Gala, Hilton Chicago
  7. July 25: 4 p.m., Mass, Regnum Christi Consecrated Women, Northlake
  8. July 26: 10:30 a.m., Sunday Mass, St. Charles Borromeo, Melrose Park; 7 p.m., Mass, 110th St. Anne Novena, Our Lady of Fatima Church
  9. July 27: 11:30 a.m., Mass, The National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors, St. James Chapel, Quigley Center
  10. July 28: 10:30 a.m., Catholic Church Extension Society Executive Committee Meeting, Quigley Center
  11. July 30: 7:30 p.m., Keynote Address, Camino a Emaús, The Word of God and Latino Catholics Conference, University of Notre Dame, Ind.
  12. Aug. 1: 9 a.m., Mass, Bicentennial Celebration of the Daughters of Charity, National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, Md.
Cardinal's Crest

Cardinal's Appointments

July 10, 2009

His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George announces the following appointments:


Rev. Daniel Hartnett, S.J., from resident of Ignatius House Jesuit Community, North Kenmore, to pastor of Most Blessed Trinity Parish, Waukegan, effective immediately.


Rev. Jesus Hernando Puentes, extern priest from the Diocese of Tibú, Columbia, incardinated into the Presbyterate of the Archdiocese of Chicago and will continue as administrator of St. Philomena Parish, North Kedvale, effective immediately.


Rev. Michael Nacius, pastor of St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish, Matteson, to be on sabbatical from Aug. 1- Dec. 14.

Over the years, people in our country have come to realize how morally destructive it is to discriminate against people. But discrimination about the morality of actions remains the foundation for moral theory and for the formation of personal conscience. The recent talks between President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about reducing the number of nuclear arms and eventually doing away with them entirely are a good reminder of how a political issue is also a moral issue, because what is at stake is a question of life or death.

Judging the objective morality of nuclear weaponry

The reason the use of nuclear weapons is immoral is not because they are simply “bigger bombs.” The reason the use of nuclear weapons is immoral is because those who use them cannot discriminate between military and non-military targets. In a just defense, one has a moral right to resist an attacker, even using violence when necessary. Targeting military camps, naval vessels, armament factories, massed troops and other means of aggression is morally justifiable if one’s cause is just. But using weapons that cannot separate military from civilian targets is not morally right. Nuclear weapons do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants; everything is destroyed.

Sometimes moralists will say that, in modern total warfare, everyone is a combatant, even small children, just because they are citizens of an enemy power. The church’s teaching on just-warfare continues to discriminate between direct aggressors and others, as do the Geneva Conventions for the conduct of war and the treatment of prisoners. Some theorists point out that nuclear weapons are now much more sophisticated and can, in fact, pinpoint targets. That issue does complicate the argument, but the problem remains of nuclear fallout, which is not discriminatory, and the enormous risk that using any sort of nuclear weapon will raise the ante in warfare, with unforeseeable consequences for all.

The closest that Catholic bishops have come to admitting a morally acceptable place for nuclear weapons in modern just-war theory was when the U.S. Peace Pastoral was being debated in the early 1980s. The bishops said then that, in the situation of a standoff between the two great superpowers, it was acceptable to stockpile nuclear weapons to deter the threat of aggression, but they could never be used. With the end of the Cold War, that argument needs to be re-visited.

Nuclear disarmament in a complex world

The papal magisterium has constantly encouraged nuclear disarmament, within the context of verifiable mutual agreements. That context seems more hopeful now than it has been in decades, but for the fact that movements, terrorists groups and other aggressors that are not nation states are now potentially also able to obtain nuclear weapons. Although it would be foolish not to recognize how dangerous is the world in which we now live, lawful governments need to show that they are willing to work consistently toward a world without nuclear weapons.

The United States is the only country in the world that has ever dropped nuclear bombs on civilian populations. It was done more than 50 years ago during a great war that threatened to drag on indefinitely with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives among both troops and civilians. We are not now in such a war, and we are therefore freer to consider moral principles beyond political goals and military strategy. As is the case with most political issues, moral categories about the conduct of war can easily get lost in the midst of utilitarian calculation.

Forming a good personal conscience about nuclear disarmament

The church creates spaces where conscience can operate at a level consistent with its being the way a loving God nudges us toward making good moral choices. The protection of conscience, insisted on by the church, demands also that one’s conscience be shaped by moral principles that transcend personal desire or political goals. Personal conscience is not autonomous; we judge from within the human community and the church. This is as true for decisions about warfare as it is for decisions about immigration policy, financial systems, sexual morality, the protection of defenseless human life, the provision of health care or any other topic now being debated.

Because of our country’s history and because of our ideals, the United States can credibly take the lead in moving toward a ban on the possession of nuclear weapons by anyone. Besides the administration’s recent conversations, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives is considering a “Global Security Priorities Resolution (HR 278) that addresses the threat of international terrorism by working to prevent access to nuclear materials and urges that whatever money is saved should be put to the benefit of children and for food security. I imagine there are other such instruments, both economic and legal, that work toward similar goals. As we enjoy this summer, we should pray for their implementation, strengthen movements working to prevent war and ask for God’s blessing on those negotiating complete nuclear disarmament.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI

Archbishop of Chicago