“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” President Joe Biden said during a Democratic fundraiser on October 6, referring to Vladimir Putin’s threats in the face of Russia’s faltering campaign in Ukraine. This is what many American Catholics remember today, in October 2022: those several days in October 1962, the most dangerous moment in the history of the Cold War, and one that influenced the participants at the Second Vatican Council, which changed so many things in the Church.
President Biden is not the only Catholic figure in the United States to warn about the risk of a nuclear war. Church leaders have also raised their voices. In January, even before the invasion of Ukraine, Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, released a pastoral letter titled “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament.” On September 23, Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, condemned threats made during the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly to use nuclear weapons in the Russia-Ukraine war. More recently, there was Seattle Archbishop Paul Etienne, who said in his October 7 message to his diocese: “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.”
Talk of nuclear war has been normalized, and the Catholic Church, including Pope Francis, has been one of the few institutional voices warning against the risks of nuclear escalation. As he noted at the Angelus of October 9: “At the beginning of Vatican II sixty years ago, the danger of nuclear war menaced the world right at that time. Why don’t we learn from history? Even at that moment, there were conflicts and huge tensions, but the way of peace was chosen.”