No confidence in future of nuclear deterrence
NUCLEAR deterrence is a policy which can command no confidence in the future, according to the bishops' conference of England and Wales.
The bishops made a special effort to give prominence to their statement on peace, issued on Thursday last week after the bishops' conference meeting.
"We have no confidence that a policy of deterrence which some claim to have been effective in the past will always be so in the future. The experience of history and of human sinfulness is against this," the bishops say in a three page document on peace.
At the same time, the bishops are not prepared to support unilateral disarmament. "In current conditions 'deterrence' based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way towards a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable," they quote Pope John Paul saying to the UN special session on disarmament.
Cardinal Hume, commenting on the statement, said that though some were reluctant to distinguish between unilateral and mulilateral disarmament, he thought the distinction one worth making, as long as the desire to disarm were preserved in any discussion.
Though the statement was in the name of the full bishops' conference in session, it is intended merely as a 'contribution' to the debate, on a level with the booklets published by the bishops' International Justice and Peace Commission.
The declaration takes its cue from the Pope's homily in Coventry, urging the nation to join in building the "Cathedral of peace", though they lived "under the shadow of a nuclear nightmare."
It goes on to say "The Pope's acceptance of deterrence under certain conditions presupposes a firm intent to proceed to realistic steps towards progressive disarmament which must be mutual and verifiable. But in practice this 'progressiCe disarmament' has been minimal."
The bishops find in the decision to replace Polaris with Trident, introduce Cruise missiles and in the proliferation of the SS20 missiles by the USSR a "grave warning of the trend towards escalation."
Cardinal Hume admitted that from this the conclusion could be drawn that Trident and Cruise missiles should be opposed by Christians, but that conclusion was for others to make. He thought the question bordered on the technical — in other words, that if it were a question of deciding which were the most effective means of defending the country, then he would be exceeding his brief by commenting. "There is not one view in the Catholic body," he said. "There are those who say we must have the proper deterrent and that it is common sense to replace Polaris with Trident. The bishops have not gone into these questions. We have not reached the point where we can discuss it competently. As a conference we are sticking to a very limited statement."
The Cardinal was able to predict that the matter would stay on the bishops' agenda for the foreseeable future.
Though the bishops were working against a background of fear of nuclear catastrophe, they echoed the Pope's words that peace is possible. They regretted that so little had been achieved at the UN special session on disarmament, but appealed to leaders of nations to intensify efforts to reverse present trends.
The bishops resolved to take the practical step of meeting with the Foreign Secretary to present their case. Cardinal Hume said that he had already this year been in conversation with Lord Carrington on the topics of disarmament and the Brandt Report.
"It is disastrous if governments go one way and churches the other," the Cardinal said. "The rapid reaction of the Government to the Church of England draught document was a little unfortunate."