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U.S., European bishops call for elimination of nuclear weapons

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals.

A joint declaration released July 6 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions called upon the U.S. and European nations to work with other nations to “map out a credible, verifiable and enforceable strategy for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

A group marching for nuclear disarmament carries a banner during a protest in mid-April in Berlin. Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals. (CNS photo/Clemens Bilan, EPA)

A group marching for nuclear disarmament carries a banner during a protest in mid-April in Berlin. Agencies of the U.S. and European Catholic bishops have called for all nations to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from their military arsenals. (CNS photo/Clemens Bilan, EPA)

“The indiscriminate and disproportionate nature of nuclear weapons compel the world to move beyond nuclear deterrence,” the declaration said.

Titled “Nuclear Disarmament: Seeking Human Security,” the declaration was released a day ahead of the July 7 conclusion of a second U.N. conference discussing a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons altogether.

The declaration was signed by Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the Conference of European Justice and Peace Commissions.

“The teaching of our church, from the catechism to St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, about the urgent need for nuclear disarmament is clear,” Bishop Cantu said in a statement accompanying the declaration’s release. “It is time for us to heed this moral imperative and promote human security both within the United States and Europe and globally.”

The U.S. and most European nations have sat on the sidelines during the U.N. meetings discussing a weapons ban, preferring to focus on the need for broader security measures to allow for strategic stability on the road to verifiable reductions in nuclear arsenals. In all, about 40 nations are boycotting the negotiations to ban such weapons. Most nations continue to support the Non-Proliferation Treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.

Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service his committee and the European bishops wanted to highlight the “glaring absence” of nuclear weapons states, including the U.S., from the U.N. conference.

“The silence gives us some clarity to raise a moral voice, to say, ‘Let’s look from a moral perspective what our priorities are as a nation when we’re looking to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the update and renewal of the nuclear arsenal,” he said.

The declaration, he explained, serves to encourage the countries possessing nuclear weapons to join the U.N. meetings and exercise leadership in reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons stockpiles.

“There are some really serious moral issues, economic issues, priority issues, policy issues that we want to lift up to society and our own electorate,” the bishop said.

“We can lend a voice as well to the Vatican statement that was issued in 2014 that was really critical that clarified for the Catholic world at least and others … that the ethic of deterrence was supposed to be one step on the road toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. It’s (stockpiling weapons) not the pathway itself,” Bishop Cantu added.

The declaration acknowledged that nuclear weapon states have been spending billions of dollars to modernize their nuclear arsenals. “These costly programs will divert enormous resources from other pressing needs that build security,” it said.

“The fact that most of the world’s nations are participating in this effort testifies to the urgency of their concern, an urgency intensified by the prospect of nuclear terrorism and proliferation, and to the inequality and dissatisfaction of non-nuclear states about the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament,” the statement said.

The declaration cited Pope Francis, who during his papacy has repeatedly called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, most recently in a message to the United Nations’ opening conference on a treaty to ban such weapons in March.

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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U.S. bishops call for solidarity with Middle East victims of violence, refugees

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WASHINGTON — Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board.

The damaged entrance of St. Mary's Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

The damaged entrance of St. Mary’s Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

“A concern for our Christian brethren is inclusive and does not exclude a concern for all the peoples of the region who suffer violence and persecution, both minorities and majorities, both Muslims and Christians,” said a Feb. 10 statement from four bishops.

“To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others,” the statement said. “Rather, by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”

The group included Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services.

The group pointed to the findings of a recent USCCB delegation to Iraq, which confirmed that Christians, Yezidis, Shiite Muslims and other minorities had experienced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State group.

“It is important for Syrians and Iraqis of all faiths to recognize this as genocide, for that recognition is a way to help everyone come to grips with what is happening and to form future generations that will reject any ideology that leads to genocidal acts and other atrocities,” the bishops said in their statement.

The bishops called on Americans to accept “our nation’s fair share” of vulnerable families, regardless of religion and ethnicity, for resettlement as refugees. They called for special consideration of the victims of genocide and other violence.

They urged the U.S. to encourage the Iraqi government and the regional government in Irbil, Iraq, to “strengthen the rule of law based on equal citizenship and ensure the protection of all.”

U.S. aid should assist local and national efforts to improve policing and the court system and encourage local self-governance, the bishops said. Similar efforts are needed in Syria as well, they said.

The U.S. also can provide “generous” humanitarian and development assistance to refugees, displaced people and Iraqi and Syrian communities as they rebuild, the statement said. Such funding can be directed in part to “trusted faith-based nongovernmental agencies” such as Catholic Relief Services and local Caritas agencies, the bishops said.

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Jerusalem’s Latin patriarchate condemns Israeli law allowing seizure of Palestinian lands

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem warned of “serious consequences” from a new law that allows the government to seize private Palestinian lands where unauthorized Israeli settlements have been built.

Heavy equipment is seen as workers clear an area for the construction of a new home Feb. 7 in the Israeli settlement of Shilo, West Bank. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem warned of "serious consequences" from a new law that allows the government to seize private Palestinian lands where unauthorized Israeli settlements have been built. (CNS photo/Jim Hollander, EPA)

Heavy equipment is seen as workers clear an area for the construction of a new home Feb. 7 in the Israeli settlement of Shilo, West Bank. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem warned of “serious consequences” from a new law that allows the government to seize private Palestinian lands where unauthorized Israeli settlements have been built. (CNS photo/Jim Hollander, EPA)

“Such a law undermines the two-state solution, further eliminating hopes of peace,” the patriarchate said in a Feb. 8 statement. “The Latin Patriarchate strongly condemns this unjust and unilateral law that allows the de facto annexation of Palestinian private land for the benefit of Israeli settlements.”

“Strongly concerned about the future of peace and justice in the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarchate calls on leaders to take decisive decisions in favor of peace, justice and dignity for all,” the statement said.

The Israeli Knesset passed the law Feb. 6. It will affect settlements or outposts built in good faith or on instructions of the government and will deem those lands as government property.

The legislation was quickly passed in the wake of the evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona in the West Bank. The Feb. 1-2 evacuation took two days and was first ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2014, but repeatedly had been pushed back because of legal appeals, until a final deadline of Feb. 8 was set in December.

The outpost consisted of mobile homes and log cabins and was built on privately owned Palestinian land. Some settlers had lived on the land for 20 years. The outpost’s buildings were either removed whole or demolished.

It is unclear whether the Palestinian owners will be permitted to return to farm there because the land abuts another Jewish settlement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to found a new settlement for the Amona evacuees on nearby land.

The Ha’aretz newspaper reported that a group of Palestinian civil and human rights organizations filed an appeal against the new law with the Supreme Court.

U.S. and European church leaders have spoken out against the settlements.

The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the settlements were an obstacle to peace.

“Settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian lands undermines a two-state solution, destroying the homes and the livelihoods of Palestinians as well as the long-term security and future of Israelis,” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, wrote Feb. 1.

Bishop Cantu also reminded Tillerson that 2017 marked 50 years of “a crippling occupation” by Israel of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe who participated in the Holy Land Coordination Jan. 14-19 said the half-century of occupation “demands action” and expressed opposition to settlement construction.

“This is a scandal to which we must never become accustomed,” said the group of 12 prelates, including Bishop Cantu, after their visit.

“This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace,” the statement said.

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U.S. bishops’ official urges Tillerson to back two-state solution in Mideast

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. government should continue to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and avoid actions that would undermine results, said the head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The brother and relatives of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammad Rajabi weep during his Jan. 7 funeral in Hebron, West Bank. Rajabi was killed by Israeli forces. A prominent U.S. bishop urged the U.S. government to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (CNS photo/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)

The brother and relatives of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammad Rajabi weep during his Jan. 7 funeral in Hebron, West Bank. Rajabi was killed by Israeli forces. A prominent U.S. bishop urged the U.S. government to promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (CNS photo/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)

Drawing on his observations from a January trip to the Holy Land, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, committee chairman, wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and urged him to continue to work for a peace agreement “that respects the human dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians and advances justice and peace for all.”

Bishop Cantu told Tillerson that Israeli settlements were an obstacle to peace.

“Settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian lands undermines a two-state solution, destroying the homes and the livelihoods of Palestinians as well as the long-term security and future of Israelis,” he said.

The bishop spoke of his Jan. 14-19 visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with bishops from Canada and Europe. In a statement at the end of the visit, the bishops said Christians have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, because “this de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians … but, as the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace.”

In his Feb. 1 letter, Bishop Cantu reminded Tillerson that 2017 marked 50 years of “a crippling occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, crippling for both peoples.”

He also spoke of problems created by the Israeli security barrier, a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank. If completed as planned, the separation wall would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank.

“The Cremisan Valley is home to a Salesian monastery, convent and school, and the agricultural lands of 58 Christian families who live in nearby Palestinian towns,” Bishop Cantu said in his letter. “The building of the wall constricts residents’ movement, impairs access to their lands, separates Christian institutions from those they serve, and encourages Christian emigration.

“The Cremisan Valley is emblematic of the alarming number of Palestinians who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Settlement expansion, confiscation of lands and the building of the separation wall on Palestinian lands violate international law and undermine a diplomatic solution,” he said.

Bishop Cantu also mentioned President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would erode the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and is a threat to pursuing peace and ending conflict. Its impact would incite and destabilize the area, compromising U.S. security,” Bishop Cantu said.

The 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act authorized funding for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem by 1999. However, the act contained a provision to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv if it was in the best interests of U.S. national security. U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush pledged to move the embassy, then kept it in Jerusalem so as not to inflame tensions.

Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, said Jan. 23 that the administration is studying the situation.

Bishop Cantu told Tillerson the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would continue to engage the State Department on international issues, but that getting a peace agreement for Israel and Palestine would “require arduous work.”

“It has been 50 years of tumult and turbulence, of egregious injustices and random acts of violence. However, the United States has always provided leadership and support to the peace process,” Bishop Cantu said.

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Washington Letter: U.N. inaction on nuclear weapons disappoints Catholic advocates

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Catholic News Service

A month-long review of a key nuclear weapons treaty saw the nuclear powers stepping back from an opportunity to alter the status quo, much to the disappointment of Catholic peace advocates.

The disappointment stems from the failure of the nuclear weapons states to heed the arguments of the advocates, nongovernmental organizations and non-nuclear nations on the moral imperative to more rapidly shrink weapons stockpiles because of the threat they pose to humanity.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the Ninth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York April 27. Catholic peace advocates expressed disappointment with the lack of progress during the conference to shrink the arsenals of nuclear weapons-possessing nations. (CNS photo/Peter Foley, EPA)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the Ninth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York April 27. Catholic peace advocates expressed disappointment with the lack of progress during the conference to shrink the arsenals of nuclear weapons-possessing nations. (CNS photo/Peter Foley, EPA)

“Just the lack of political will all the way around, It’s discouraging,” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, told Catholic News Service May 26, four days after delegates from more than 150 nations concluded the Ninth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York.

Perhaps sensing a lack of progress during the conference, Bishop Cantu, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry May 12 calling him to step up efforts to ensure the credibility of the treaty lest there be “catastrophic consequences for all countries and for the future of humanity as a whole.”

However, the conference ended without a final statement being issued, signaling a step back from the minimal progress toward the abolition of nuclear weapons at earlier review conferences, said Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, distinguished professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University.

“The fact that there hasn’t been any (agreement) the last two conferences means that the binding power of the (treaty) is weakening,” he said.

The conference got hung up near its end as the draft of a final statement was being discussed. The United States, joined by the United Kingdom and Canada, rejected a draft resolution from Egypt that had the backing of the majority of participating nations calling on Israel to dismantle any nuclear weapons it may have as a step toward a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East.

Israeli leaders have neither confirmed nor denied that the country possesses nuclear weapons.

In a statement from the floor the final evening of the conference, Rose E. Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and a Catholic, announced there was “no agreement” and charged that Egypt and other Arab states were demanding “unrealistic and unworkable conditions” in the negotiations.

Without a final statement, nuclear-armed states will be able to keep their arsenals intact, much to the frustration of nations trying to rid the world of such weapons.

Bishop Cantu called for disarmament advocates to “keep pushing forward and encourage particularly our (U.S.) government to move forward to fulfill the treaty.”

“There’s a moral need for (nuclear) disarmament,” he said. “Unfortunately, nobody’s moving on it.”

He suggested that if Americans better understood the security dangers and enormous social and economic costs of maintaining a nuclear arsenal they might be motivated to join the call for abolition.

“It’s amazing just the general public, if you walk on the street, if you ask people about nuclear weapons, they’d say ‘No, that’s an old thing.” People assume that went away when the Cold War went away.

“If the public only knew how we spend on them and for what? This deterrence doesn’t make sense.”

Meanwhile, advocates for nuclear disarmament are not giving up on the goal of nuclear weapons-free world.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, attended the conference during its first week. She told CNS May 27 that despite the setback, enthusiasm remains high among advocates to work toward worldwide disarmament.

She cited widespread support for the elimination of nuclear weapons that emerged in December during the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

“So many countries have expressed their insistence that we move beyond this extremely dangerous status quo,” she said. “I think it gives good impetus to the likelihood that we will begin to negotiate a (weapons) ban treaty.”

The Vatican made clear its stance in support of abolition at the Vienna conference through two statements, including one from Pope Francis.

“The time has come to embrace the abolition of nuclear weapons as an essential foundation of collective security,” the Vatican said in a paper presented at the conference.

The church held firm to its stance in the paper that any use of nuclear weapons was immoral and argued that the time has come to abandon nuclear deterrence — the principle that such weapons might be used and they exist to deter another country from using them. Previously, the Vatican conditionally accepted deterrence as a step toward “progressive disarmament.”

Sister Mary Ann McGivern, a member of the Sisters of Loretto who serves on her order’s Committee for Peace, joined the Pax Christi delegation at the treaty review conference, but came away feeling “there were no surprises.”

She has placed hope, instead, on the growing effort to build on the humanitarian message that emerged from the Vienna conference and explaining how the high cost of maintaining and upgrading nuclear arsenals harms support for health care, education and preserving the environment.

“I think we don’t understand the close calls (of near nuclear weapons launches) that have happened,” Sister Mary Ann explained. “We don’t understand the imminence of them, that they’re poised along the wheat fields of Colorado and North Dakota. And the accessibility of them.”

The disarmament call gained additional support as the U.N. conference ended from the Catholic bishops of Belgium. The bishops said they backed the Vatican’s stance on deterrence and quoted Pope Francis in calling for progressive disarmament on the part of the nuclear weapons nations.

“A peaceful society is not created on the basis of threats, fear or deterrence, event at the international level,” the bishops said.

“The ethical responsibility for the abolition of nuclear weapons lies not only with the countries that develop these weapons, produce and stockpile them, but also in countries that tolerate this. Belgium is part of that,” the bishops wrote

 

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Religious leaders condemn U.S. torture practices as report is released

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The chairman of the U.S bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace said acts of torture outlined in a Senate Intelligence Committee report “violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong.” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, also called on President Barack Obama to strengthen the legal prohibitions against torture “to ensure that this never happens again.”

This is the logo for a 2008 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' guide, titled "Torture: Torture Is a Moral Issue, a Catholic Study Guide," which looks at church teaching as it relates to the use of torture by government authorities around the world and mixes in biblical passages that evoke Jesus' call to "love your enemies." The full guide is available on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org. It's in the Issues and Action section.

This is the logo for a 2008 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ guide, titled “Torture: Torture Is a Moral Issue, a Catholic Study Guide,” which looks at church teaching as it relates to the use of torture by government authorities around the world and mixes in biblical passages that evoke Jesus’ call to “love your enemies.” The full guide is available on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org. It’s in the Issues and Action section.

The bishop joined several religious leaders who condemned the use of torture by the CIA after Democrats in the Senate released a 500-page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence findings Dec. 9. The full 6,000-page report remains classified. The comments were provided by the Washington-based National Religious Campaign Against Torture after the report became public. The intelligence committee began investigating the CIA’s treatment of detainees in the so-called war on terror almost six years ago. Committee members adopted the report in 2012 and agreed to release it in April, but Senate Democrats waited eight months to do so. The report slammed U.S. tactics, which critics have described as torture, used against detainees. It said some of the tactics were more brutal than first described, produced little information that prevented an attack and often resulted in “fabricated” information. Sister Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said she was appalled by the “lack of moral integrity of a nation and individuals who justify the use of torture in the name of national security.” She called the actions by the CIA a “travesty of justice and a flagrant violation of human rights, with no reverence for the dignity of human life.” Gerry Lee, executive director of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, said the report should drive Congress to enact new laws to permanently prevent the use of torture. “Maryknoll missioners have very often served in communities alongside torture survivors, and some have experienced torture themselves,” he said. “As Christians, they know that it is horrific, dehumanizing behavior and its use must be stopped immediately.” Scott Wright, director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, said torture is never justified, adding that the report “makes very clear that crimes were committed, laws were broken and lies were told to the American people by our government. We must never as a nation go down that path again.” The acts of torture described in the report “are not just horrific,” but also represent a “brutal violation of our country’s most basic values,” said Matt Hawthorne, policy director for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. With the report’s release, the U.S. can begin healing “from self-inflicted spiritual wounds,” he said. “The revelations about the use of torture have been a source of torture to many of us,” said Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances of the Islamic Society of North America. “We had taken pride in the fact that we have left behind many societies where it was a norm and that we had chosen to be part of a nation that prided itself on its belief in human dignity and human rights.” The Rev. Susan T. Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, concluded that the report’s findings “shock the conscience.” She called for actions that respect life as a gift from God in condemning any government-sanctioned practices that violate moral teachings. The Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches, said he was grieved that “in our name others were tortured.” “May God give us the moral courage to never again betray the core principles that have guided our nation as a leader in the struggle for human rights,” he added.

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