Twenty years ago next Monday Pope John XXIII issued the encyclical Pacern in Terris, Fr Owen Hardwicke here follows the arguments for peace that the Church has used since that landmark.
"NUCLEAR weapons must be banned. A general agreement must be reached or a suitable disarmament programme with an effecitve system of mutual control." This is the cry of unilateralists and multilateralists; it is almost commonplace. These are the words of Pope John XXIII in April 1963 — all of 20 years ago.
And 1963 was the year of the Partial Test Ban Treaty; it was the peak of the First wave of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which in an important sense had roused the world to the dangers of nuclear pollution from testing weapons.
Sadly, many people thought we were on the way to a total ban on tests and bombs. Today there are thousands more in existence; and tests (mostly not in the atmosphere of course) continue.
Pope John spoke of the "vast outlay of intellectual and material resources" in the manufacture of weapons, "with the result that the people of these alertified countries are saddled with a tremendous burden, and other countries are being deprived of the help they need for their economic and social development. The present Pope speaks in the same terms: at Hiroshima he said: "It has been estimated that about half the world's research-workers are at present employed for military purposes. Can the human family morally go on much longer in this direction? Can we remain passive when we are told that humanity spends immensely more money on arms than on development. . . ."
There is a remarkable consistency in the arguments. The horror of nuclear war was as clear to Pope Pius XII and John XXIII as to John Paul 11.
But the arms race continues; few disagree that we are in an ever-increasing danger, even though "it is difficult to believe anyone would deliberately assume responsibility for initiating the appalling slaughter and destruction that war
would bring in its train." (Pacem in Terris 1 1 I).
Long before John Paul II called for a "moral about-turn" to save us from the holocaust, John XXIII said: "True peace among the nations that depend not on the possession of an equal supply of armaments, but solely mutual trust."
But then, as today, the Pope saw no other way than that proclaimed — but never acted upon by the diplomats of all sides. The stockpiles of armaments must be "reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned". He affirmed that "the monstrous power of modern weapons does indeed act as a deterrent"; just as the present Pope believes deterrence is 'morally acceptable' so long as it is a stage towards negotiation and reduction.
This however is not the view held by increasing numbers of Catholics. The words "balance" and "parity" have little meaning in the world of overkill.
And if exact "simultaneity" is to take place, it implies a totally impossible verification process; so that reductions become unlikely if not impossible.
There is indeed, on the basis of Pope John and Pope John-Paul's other words no other way than a volte-face, a "moral about-term". "The preservation of peace will have to be dependent on a radically different principle from the one which is operative at the present time."
Someone has to start trusting somewhere. More and more Christians, as well as others, believe we should answer the gospel call to take risks for peace.
The only alternative is to be locked into the spiral of the arms race, growing suspicion and animosity against "the enemy" and the inevitable dangers of breakdown through political, emotional and technological mistakes — and those alternatives have already merited whole-hearted condemnation.