by Christopher Howse
THE CATHOLICS bishops are still a long way from agreement among themselves on the morality of nuclear weapons, it emerged this week in the wake of publication of the Church of England working party report The Church and the Bomb.
Fr Brendan Soane, a lecturer in moral theology at Allen Hall seminary, Westminster, and a contributor to the report, said that he did not think all the Catholic bishops would accept the conclusions of the report, which include a recommendation that Britain should begin to disarm unilaterally.
News Analysis — page 3
"They have different opinions on what ought to be our defence policy," he said. "But they have said nothing publicly. I do not think we are very close to getting a unified Catholic position. I do not even think we can get agreement that it is immoral to use nuclear weapons."
There are some Catholics who defend the use of nuclear weapons, for example against a fleet at sea. MPs such as Major Sir Patrick Wall stand by the Government's defence policy. There are Catholic moral theologians who would oppose unilateralism.
The Catholic bishops have asked for more discussion before they make a statement on the moral issues involved. Peace groups such as Pax Christi have been urging support from the hierarchy for opposition to nuclear deterrents.
Bishop James O'Brien, President of the International Justice and Peace Commission, could not say what the position of the Catholic hierarchy was on the possession of nuclear arms and the question of unilaterlism.
"It seems to me," he said after the publication of The Church and the Bomb," that there are very strong arguments in favour of the unilateralist position, but I am not absolutely certain that it is a closed question. It is an extremely complex issue.
"I think there should be further discussion and that the Government should be prepared to provide more information about our targetting policy. If our targetting policy involves the obliteration of cities or the slaughter of numbers of innocent people, then the whole wi cy is absolutely immoral. immoral.
"If it is possible for there to be strategic targets which would not involve extermination of non-combatants, then further consideration would have to be given to the moral position. We would have to bear in mind the risks of escalation and the effects on future generations, both of which could make even limited use of nuclear weapons immoral in my view.
"My own preference would be for Britain to disengage from the nuclear deterrent and rather to build up our conventional forces. I think we could make a more useful contribution to Nato and to the prevention of war by pursuing this policy."