THE time for moral acceptance of deterrence may be over, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle advised a national Pax Christi audience in Chicago last week.
In the keynote address to the 11th annual assembly of Pax Christi USA, the archbishop cited the 1983 US bishops' pastoral letter on war and peace, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response. "But as we all know, The Challenge of Peace was not enough."
Noting that the nuclear arms race has accelerated in outer space and across the world since 1983, he suggested that "we as a church must acknowledge that the expansion of this evil has taken place under a strategic principle which was explicitly tolerated, although in a strictly conditioned manner. I refer, of course, to the principle of nuclear deterrence."
He emphasised that "my interpretation of the present realities is that we may no longer be able to give moral respectability to the principle of deterrence because the strict conditions we set forth are fast ceasing to be verified. In my view, we are rapidly approaching the point where our courageous pastoral letter will no longer be seen as the challenge it was meant to be: It will become instead the nuclear equivalent of a blank cheque."
The archbishop recalled a 1976 US bishops' pastoral letter, To Live in Christ Jesus, which stated that the United States must know "that not only is it wrong to attack civilian populations but it is also wrong to threaten to attack them as part of a strategy of deterrence."
"I feel, at this time, compelled to wonder out loud whether, perhaps, we weren't right the first time," he said. "Nuclear war begins, I believe, in our hearts and that is where it must end. For that reason, deterrence is not extrinsic to the evil of nuclear war, but finds, itself at the centre of the evil. In other words, our intention or willingness to do the sin could become the sin."
He reminded those present that peace may begin at each celebration of the Eucharist and in a deeper understanding of the cross. "Is it too much to suggest, then, that as we satisfy our hungers as a human family in the Eucharist, the eucharistic' celebration itself could be a time when we are reminded of our call — our obligation — to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters throughout the world who, like us, are experiencing the threat of nuclear extermination?" he asked.
In ceremonies following Archbishop Hunthausen's talk, Pax Christi USA's president, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, gave the Seattle prelate the organisation's 1987 Pope Paul VI Teacher of Peace Award. The award commends the recipient for a witness that is prophetic.