Aboard his flight from Bangladesh to Rome on Saturday, Pope Francis said that the destructive potential of nuclear weapons is so great that humanity has reached the limit of morally possessing them or using them as deterrents.
“In the nuclear field…today we are at the limit,” the Pope said Dec. 2. “This can be a matter for discussion, it's my opinion, but I am convinced of my opinion: we are at the limit of liceity to have and use nuclear arms.”
The Pope’s comments were made during an in-flight press conference during his return flight from an apostolic trip to Burma, also known as Myanmar, and Bangladesh from Nov. 27-Dec. 2.
Asked if something has changed since the time of the Cold War, when many world leaders considered nuclear weapons a useful and ethically acceptable deterrent to war, Francis stated that he thinks the rationality of the claim has changed.
He also noted that the number of nuclear arms continues to grow, becoming more sophisticated and more powerful, and those factors change the consideration.
“I ask myself this question,” he said, “Today, is it licit to maintain the arsenal of nuclear weapons as they are? Or today, to save creation, to save humanity, is it not necessary to go backward?”
The Pope’s words aboard the papal flight echoed a statement made in a message to United Nations members last March, when he said that while eliminating nuclear weapons may be a challenge, there is still a “moral and humanitarian imperative” to do so.
He also expressed skepticism that nuclear deterrence is “an effective response” to the world's security challenges, echoing decades of previous statements by the Holy See on the perilous potential of nuclear weaponry.
Francis most recently spoke on the topic during an address to participants in a Vatican symposium on nuclear disarmament Nov. 10, stating his hope for the elimination of nuclear arms, and pointing to an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which was passed by the UN in July, as a positive step.
The Holy See actively took part in the treaty negotiations, and is among the three nations that have ratified the treaty.
The Holy See has a “Permanent Observer” status at the UN, although with “enhanced powers.” That means that the Holy See can take part in the negotiations of treaties, but does not usually have the right to vote.
For the July 7 vote on the nuclear treaty, the Holy See was allowed to participate in negotiations as a full member, and was permitted to vote on the matter before the adoption of the treaty, showing the strength of the Holy See’s commitment to nuclear disarmament.
This was the first time the Holy See has been afforded such a status at the UN, which Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s “foreign minister,” described as a milestone during the treaty ratification ceremony Sep. 20.