Pontiff tells media on flight home that he will formalize condemnation of nuclear weapons possession
Pope Francis speaks to reporters during a news conference on board the papal plane on Nov. 26 on his flight back from a week-long trip to Thailand and Japan. (Photo: Remo Casilli/AFP)
Pope Francis has stopped short of joining Japan’s bishops in calling for an end to nuclear power production but will add a declaration to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.
Returning on Nov. 26 from a whirlwind trip to Thailand and Japan, the pope spoke at an informal press conference aboard his flight to Rome from Tokyo.
During his time in Tokyo, the pope met with survivors of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant explosion and meltdown in Fukushima that followed the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan on March 11, 2011.
In his talk, Francis noted that Japanese bishops have called for the abolition of nuclear power production. He did not, however, explicitly endorse their position. The bishops issued that call, “On the Abolition of Nuclear Power Generation,” in November 2016.
On the plane, a Japanese reporter asked about the pope’s failure to endorse the statement.
Francis responded: “The use of nuclear energy is at the limit [of safety] because we still have not managed to achieve total security.”
He added: “In my personal opinion, I would not use nuclear energy until there is total security. There is not enough security to guarantee that there will not be a disaster.”
The pope then responded to those who support nuclear power production on the basis that nuclear accidents are rare and that other forms of energy production also carry the risk of accidents.
He pointed out that the effects of nuclear accidents exceed those of other accidents, as was the case in Chernobyl in Ukraine where a 1986 meltdown made a large area uninhabitable.
Pope Francis linked the issue to the situation facing the environment, saying that humanity has gone beyond the limit in violating nature. As examples, he mentioned the overuse of pesticides and dosing animals raised for human consumption with growth hormones.
“The [need for the] protection of the environment has gotten to the point where it is either now or never,” he said.
The main focus of the pope’s visit to Japan was nuclear disarmament.
He said on the plane that declarations on the immorality of the use or even the possession of nuclear weapons will be incorporated in the Church’s universal catechism.
The pope was criticized, especially in nuclear-armed nations, when he first spoke in 2017 of the immorality of possessing such weapons.
Francis accused states of practicing “armament hypocrisy,” saying that traditionally Christian nations “speak of peace but live off weapons. This is called hypocrisy.”
The pontiff said the United Nations does much good around the world but criticized the system that gives veto power to only a few nations in the Security Council.
“Without meaning any offense to anyone, think of the Security Council: if there is a problem with weapons and everybody votes in favor of avoiding a bellicose action ... and one with veto power votes no, everything stops,” he said.
The Security Council has five permanent members with veto power: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, all of whom possess nuclear arsenals.
“I have heard people say that the United Nations should move forward and give up the right of veto of some nations ... It would be beautiful if everyone had the same right,” Francis said.
In response to questions raised by Western journalists about a recent raid on offices in the Vatican suspected of corruption, the pope said that one good thing about the scandal is that it shows that the Vatican has finally instituted a system that roots out corruption rather than it being discovered by outside investigators.
“It’s an ugly thing that this happens inside the Vatican but it was brought to light by internal mechanisms that are starting to work,” he said, referring to financial controls introduced or strengthened since his election in 2013.
He said the fact that the case had been uncovered and was being dealt with should reassure anyone wary about donating to the annual Peter’s Pence collection for the pope’s use.
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