Nuclear War, as Viewed by Archbishop Pell of Sydney

Australian Prelate Weighs in at Videoconference

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2003 ( Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, Australia, delivered this talk on nuclear war during Wednesday’s videoconference organized by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy ( The theme of the videoconference was «Peace Challenged by War, Violence and Terrorism.»

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Is Nuclear War Licit?
By Archbishop George Pell

War is always terrible and so the Church urges Christians to pray that God may free us from the ancient bondage of war. This result is unlikely before the Lord’s return in glory.

Modern science and technology have radically increased the human capacity for destruction. Atomic weapons are the most spectacular example of this, but biological and chemical weapons are too, together with modern developments in conventional armaments. Atomic weapons are different from others only because of their huge capacity to kill and injure.

The just war theory was first spelt out by St. Augustine in fifth century North Africa and the criteria listed in the Catholic Catechism are one authoritative version of this. The theory has been in development and this will continue as we grapple with changes such as atomic warfare and the growth of terrorist networks with increasing access to these means of destruction.

The just war theory discusses the rights of properly constituted governments to go to war, when all peace efforts have failed and outlines what constitutes appropriate activity in wartime. All is not fair in love and war.

There must be a just cause in order to go to war; in other words rigorous conditions for moral legitimacy must be met.

Use of military force could be legitimate when the damage inflicted by the aggressor is lasting, grave and certain, and other means of stopping the aggression are ineffective. There must be serious prospects of success and the war must not produce disorders greater than the evil to be eliminated.

Violence against civilians, wounded soldiers and prisoners is not to be condoned.

The effects of atomic warheads vary enormously, from the limited damage of tactical weapons to the capacity to destroy huge cities.

The destruction of huge numbers of civilians, especially when their death is expressly intended or foreseen, can never be moral. There should never be a repetition of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Dresden or the London blitz.

Atomic weapons of limited destruction might be used legitimately by governments if they meet the criteria of the just war theory, particularly the duty to avoid civilian casualties. This would be rare.

But the use of mass weapons of destruction against civilians can never be justified.

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