Catholic Archbishop Calls For Nuclear Disarmament as Church Again Wades Into Debate

The Archbishop of the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Roman Catholic diocese released a letter Tuesday calling for nuclear disarmament around the world in the latest example of the church getting involved in the nuclear debate.

Archbishop John Wester said in the letter that it's time for the world to work together to use the resources spent on the weapons on projects that would better the world.

"We can no longer deny or ignore the extremely dangerous predicament of our human family and that we are in a new nuclear arms race far more dangerous than the first," he said. "We need nuclear arms control, not an escalating nuclear arms race."

He said his position offers him unique responsibility to the cause, as two facilities that develop nuclear weapons, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory where the atomic bomb was created, are in New Mexico, and a stockpile of the weapons are stored in the state as well.

The laboratory is planning to produce new plutonium cores for nuclear weapons, according to Wester's letter.

Archbishop Wester's key suggestion was that the resources used to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal should instead be used on projects like those that would address the nation's poverty crisis.

In 2020, Pope Francis used the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, to say the world should move for peace and called the possession of nuclear weapons alone immoral.

John Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe
Archbishop John Wester of the Santa Fe Archdiocese released a letter Tuesday arguing for nuclear disarmament around the world. Archbishop Wester, center, walks in a procession on his first day as archbishop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on June 4, 2015. Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Wester called the arms race a vicious spiral.

Last week, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace welcomed a recent pledge by several countries that are members of the United Nations Security Council to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Wester said he also was encouraged by the pledge.

Federal officials spanning the Obama, Trump and now Biden administrations have argued that modernization is necessary given geo-political instability and ongoing national security concerns. Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation also have supported efforts to expand work at Los Alamos, pointing to billions of dollars in investment and new jobs that will result.

Wester said the focus should be on shifting weapons work to "life-affirming jobs" that involve environmental cleanup of Cold War-era waste, nonproliferation programs and projects that address climate change. He acknowledged that such a shift wouldn't be easy but said it's possible, pointing to changes that resulted from the technological revolution and now the transformation of the energy industry.

"It's really such an important topic. We really can't dally," Wester said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.