At least 18 Catholic bishops have signed on to a call by PAX Christi USA for the U.S. government to redirect military spending to fund human need.

"We are told that our military spending secures peace for our people and the Church recognizes the legitimate need for the adequate defense of nations," the letter stated. "But our reliance on unfettered military spending is rooted in a mistaken notion of peace and an erroneous understanding of what constitutes true security for our people."

The letter was part of the Bread Not Stones campaign sponsored by the U.S. branch of the international Catholic peace and justice movement.

The campaign contacted 99 bishops in 65 U.S. dioceses inviting them to sign on to the letter, and as of Jan. 22, 18 had added their signatures.

"But the story of this campaign is not only about these bishops. It is also about the efforts of ordinary Catholics across the country who urged their bishop to add their name to this moral document reflecting the well-established teachings of the Catholic Church," said Tom Cordaro, a Pax Christi ambassador of peace.

"Like the persistent widow in the Gospel (Luke 18:1-8) who continued to seek justice from an uncaring judge," Catholics persist "in the hope" they can convince their bishop to affirm Catholic social teaching, he wrote in an article on the website of the Washington-based group. "The call to redirect military spending to fund human need is not a past concern of the Church."

"The growing gap between the rich and the poor is compounded by a growing gap between our nation's spending on weapons and preparations for war and our commitment to end poverty," the sign-on letter said. "Our poor and marginalized brothers and sisters cry out for the bread of compassion and justice. Shall we continue to offer them stones?"

The letter quotes from St. Paul VI's 1967 encyclical "Populorum Progressio": "For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among men."

During the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, the Catholic Church made clear that "the arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race," the letter said, quoting "Gaudium et Spes," the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. "It is to be condemned as a danger, an act of aggression against the poor, and a folly which does not provide the security it promises."

In December, the U.S. House of Representatives, in a bipartisan vote, passed the National Defense Authorization Act to provide a record $886 billion in annual military spending.

"In our dioceses we hear the cry of the poor who hunger for the bread of compassion and justice," the letter said. "We hear that cry in our Catholic Charities offices, in our food pantries, in our parish St. Vincent de Paul ministries. We hear that cry in our schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, and immigrant outreach efforts."

"The U.S. federal budget is a moral document that identifies what we value," the letter continued. "We cannot remain silent while our nation squanders hundreds of billions of dollars every year on weapon systems that add little to our nation's national security while neglecting the poor and marginalized in our dioceses and around the world."

"Our misplaced reliance on new and ever more lethal conventional and nuclear weapons will never bring us the peace for which we long. If we want genuine peace, we must seek justice."

Signing the letter were two cardinals, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy of San Diego and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey. Other signatories include: Archbishops John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Thomas R. Zinkula of Dubuque, Iowa; Bishops John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, Steven R. Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming, John P. Dolan of Phoenix, Daniel E. Garcia of Monterey, California, Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson, Mississippi, Bishop Mark J. Seitz, El Paso, Texas, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, Bishop Louis Tylka of Peoria, Illinois; and Auxiliary Bishop Matthew G. Elshoff of Los Angeles.

Also signing the letter were retired Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa; and retired Auxiliary Bishops Thomas J. Gumbleton and Donald F. Hanchon, both of Detroit, Peter A. Rosazza of Hartford, Connecticut, and Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee.

The campaign has officially ended, but Pax Christi USA said on its website -- -- it welcomes additional signatures to the bishops' statement.