Abp. Etienne on the Threat of Nuclear War

October 7 is the Feast of the Holy Rosary for Normals in the Catholic Church–and the Feast of Holy War for bellicose Reactionaries in the Catholic Church. It’s the day commemorating the time a Dominican Pope prayed the Dominican’s favorite devotion–the Rosary–and the West witnessed an amazing victory over Muslim forces in a the great naval engagement of Lepanto.

I am not one of those people who wrings his hands over the thought of 16th century Europe defeating a massively predatory enemy at Lepanto. I’m frankly glad the (relatively) good guys won that battle and am grateful to God that the prayers of the Pope were heard.

However, that said, Lepanto was a long time ago, the Ottomans are long gone, Christendom too, and we now live in a world where, in the words of John F. Kennedy, “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”

Weirdly, Reactionary Catholics, filled with the fantasies of re-establishing a vanished Christendom as ISIS is filled with the fantasy of re-establishing the Caliphate, cling increasingly to the hope of achieving that feat by blood, iron, force, and servile fear–because they no longer believe in the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. So from Catholic Christian Nationalists at Steubenville to neo-fascists like The Vortex to Mike Flynn’s “Army of God” the Christian Right, faced with a democracy that is not going to fulfil their dream of “reinstating Trump”, outlawing abortion, and punishing LGBT people (among many other targeted victims) the talk is increasingly of banishing democracy at home while supporting crusade abroad. That is why they adore Putin and see him as a great bulwark of Christian Might against the godless and the infidel.

The trouble with this fantasy is, of course, that men like Putin are wolves who are threatening the use of nuclear weapons if they don’t get their way just as Christian Nationalists are fantasizing about (and as January 6 showed, committing) violent punishments for their enemies when they don’t get their way. This lot means to burn down the world if they can’t impose their will. And as such fanatics always are, they are convinced God is with them in their holy crusade.

Which is why I am grateful for my bishop looking to the future, not the past, and reminding us that the Rosary is not an eternal call to recapitulate Lepanto or militarize the Rosary as these grifters do, but a call to use the weapons of the Spirit in a war with our own selfishness, not a war to dominate others by any means necessary.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am increasingly troubled by Russia’s war against Ukraine. The irresponsible threats by President Putin to use nuclear weapons are of grave concern. Nearly every day, there is another development that increases international tensions. To reinforce what could happen, this October marks the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war.

In this Archdiocese, the Bangor Trident Nuclear Submarine Base has the largest number of deployed U.S. nuclear weapons. Because Puget Sound could be on the frontline in a nuclear war, I feel an urgent obligation that we review our Catholic teaching on nuclear weapons and the need to sharply reduce these weapons of mass destruction until we can eliminate them.

The manufacture of nuclear weapons has already caused significant damage to humans and God’s creation. Within Washington State, producing nuclear weapons contaminated the Hanford Nuclear Site and areas around two uranium mines near Spokane. Thousands of workers and people living downwind of these contaminated sites were exposed to harmful levels of radiation.

God calls us to build a global community where the whole human family can flourish. The current situation requires a prophetic stance. Pope Francis declared in Hiroshima in 2019: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Over the last few months, I have prayed over this situation and reflected on the teaching of the Church. I appeal to everyone to join me in undertaking three actions:

First, let us intensify our prayer for peace. Pray for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and the renewal of progress toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Second, let us keep educating ourselves on both the international situation and what the Church and other religious leaders are saying about the nuclear peril.

Third, join me in appealing for peace and nuclear disarmament with your family, friends, neighbors, and elected officials. We need to take immediate action to avert nuclear disaster. Each day runs a risk that nuclear weapons will be used, either by intent, miscalculation, or accident.

In closing, let us make the words of St. John Paul II at Hiroshima our own: “Let us embark upon the steep and difficult path of peace, the only path that befits human dignity, the only path that leads to the true fulfillment of the human destiny, the only path to a future in which equity, justice and solidarity are realities and not just distant dreams.”

In the Heart of Christ,
Most Rev. Paul D. Etienne, DD, STL
Archbishop of Seattle


2 Responses

  1. Hi Mark, Great column.
    You know I am a veteran and you may not know I was a conscientous objector when it came to nuclear weapons.

    When asked if I would join the nuclear weapons team, I said no. I did not want to push the button, have all five people left in the world point to me as the one who pushed the button.

    I will never forget the response. The person responding told me I would not be working with big nuclear weapons, these were only the size of the hiroshima bomb. I was shocked. If I was drinking coffee this would have been a coffee spit moment. I immediately responded: “Sir, that killed 100,000 people in four seconds. No!”

    Our ship visited Seattle during the time of Bishop Hunthausen and he too was intensely anti-nuke. of course.

    I wish all the bishops of the world would stand together and issue a statement against nuclear weapons. In the meantime, it might be time to watch Wargames again and reread Gaudium et Spes paragraphs 79 and following.

    Thanks again.

    1. God bless your faithful witness through Christ our Lord. It is a mark of the diseased MAGA cult that they have defended Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now defend Putin’s nuclear threats and Trump’s nuclear treason.

Leave a Reply

Follow Mark on Twitter and Facebook

Get updates by email