Left to right: Anthony Donovan, William Hartung, Professor Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Martha Hennessey, Father Timothy Graff, Maura Keaney and Brendan Fay
Delegates to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meetings taking place last month at the UN in New York were given a unique opportunity to hear some voices rarely heard inside those hallowed walls. The Pax Christi International side event on May 9th, 2019 provided some inspiring and profound reflections on our moral obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons, as well as living proof that there are many courageous people out there determined to make this happen.
Only one of the panelists had ever spoken at the UN before: William Hartung, Director of the Arms Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is a highly-respected authority on nuclear weapons issues and author of several books on this subject. He helped clarify some of the economics of the nuclear weapons industry, and spoke encouragingly about the way divestment campaigns can make a difference. He talked about the vast amount of resources and skills currently going into nuclear weapons and how these could refocused to create so many more jobs that actually address the real problems we face as a society.
Other speakers included Martha Hennessey, who is currently awaiting trial with six others for entering the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia in prayerful witness to call out the morality and illegality of nuclear weapons. Martha is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and she faces up to 25 years in prison for her action.
Professor Jeannine Hill Fletcher teaches theology at Fordham University and traveled to Georgia to lend expert testimony at the pre-trial hearings for the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 (KBP7). She clearly speaks to the core of Catholic social teaching being aligned with our moral duty to oppose the immorality of nuclear weapons. She organized a recent event for her University around what she identifies as “the prophetic call” of the KBP7 to awaken our society. She recently published the acclaimed book, The Sin of White Supremacy.
Father Timothy Graff is a Roman Catholic priest who, among other duties, works with 212 parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, to develop and support local social justice programs. He works closely with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, and a close ally of Pope Francis. Cardinal Tobin has been nudging, as best he can, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference towards making the immorality of nuclear weapons, and the Pope’s message about them, more a part of the conversation among American Catholics.
Maura Keaney is a First Vice President of Amalgamated Bank of New York, one of the first banks in the country to stop lending and transacting with companies tied to the manufacture of guns and all armaments, including nuclear weapons. The bank is a leading example for any interested in divestment from nuclear weapons in this country.
Brendan Fay is a film-maker andthe founder of the annual ‘St. Pats for All’ parade in New York, a living example of the City embracing it’s great diversity. He was recently honored by the City’s Comptroller Scott Stringer for outstanding community leadership, and in 2016 was given the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad by Irish President Michael Higgins. Brendan is responsible for linking Nuclear Ban Treaty activists in New York to the City Council’s Finance Chair, Danny Dromm, who started a process last year that could lead to the $63 billion New York City pension fund being divested from nuclear weapons.
Mary Yelenick is Pax Christi International’s NGO Representative to the United Nations in New York. She has taken part in discussions at the Vatican on nuclear disarmament and nonviolence. Mary is part of a growing movement that is moving the Catholic Church from a theology of ‘just war’ to a theology of ‘just peace.’ Mary, along with PCI’s Beth Begley, secured the sponsorship for this panel.
Anthony Donovan, who organized and moderated the panel, is the author of the 1983 book World Peace?, a filmmaker, and for 49 years an all-round campaigner for peace. A five generation native New Yorker, he participates in many causes, but especially nuclear disarmament. His 2015 film, Good Thinking: Those Who’ve Tried to Halt Nuclear Weapons won ‘best documentary’ at Montreal’s International Wreath Awards Film Festival, and went on to win many other awards.
The immorality of nuclear weapons
Pope Francis has called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, but Father Tim assured us that this is not a new position for the Catholic Church. Pope Pius described nuclear weapons in 1945 as “the most terrible weapon the human mind has ever conceived.”
Martha Hennessy said, “Catholic social teaching has always been about the sanctity of human life and care for God’s creation. The threat to destroy whole countries and possibly all life on earth refutes everything that makes us human. This creates a global atmosphere of distrust and suspicion rather than one conducive to the cooperation and solidarity that are so essential for solving the global problems we face today.”
Martha noted that the panel was meeting on the birthday of Father Daniel Berrigan, SJ. She recalled him saying, “our pursuit of war seems to be with our whole hearts and yet our pursuit of peace is half- hearted.” Martha also referenced the writings of her grandmother Dorothy Day from September 1945. Dorothy spoke of “breathing in the dust of our Japanese brothers and sisters” and denounced as scandalous the fact that 98% of all nuclear weapons were, and still are, in the hands of white Christians…
Father Tim added, “People may think that nuclear weapons give us security, but this is a false sense of security. The constant threat of annihilation hanging over us actually makes us all very insecure with each other. There is no us and them,” said Pope Francis. “It’s only us!”
Professor Hill Fletcher pointed out that nuclear weapons are not just immoral because of the death and destruction they are designed for and capable of causing. Threatening other countries as a means of ‘defending’ one’s own is contrary to central Christian teaching, the fundamental orientation of loving God, and loving neighbor.
There are 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, and yet many of them, especially in the US, have not heard what Pope Francis has been saying about nuclear weapons. There are also Catholic bishops in the US who do not presently show awareness of, or support for, his proclamations. As Father Tim said, “there is still much work to be done.”
The meaning of “good faith”
When the United States and the other nuclear-armed nations signed the NPT more than 50 years ago, they committed themselves “in good faith” to the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. Good faith is the basis of all contractual relationships.
To what extent is the US failure to live up to its commitments in the NPT a betrayal of our “faith?” To make good faith commitments and then not live up to them undermines the moral teaching of all faith communities as well as people’s faith in government generally.
In the absence of national leadership on this critical issue, it becomes incumbent upon us as citizens to take action to reduce the risks of nuclear war and rid ourselves of this danger. Prof. Hill Fletcher described the action of Martha Hennessey and her KBP7 colleagues as a prophetic call to wake us up. The country needs this spark. Martha spoke very movingly about her own personal spiritual journey which led her to being compelled to help the nation see this very real, present existential danger. Others described how individual acts of personal sacrifice have jolted them out of complacency and moved them to act.
Brendan Fay described how beautiful it was to be in this room, full of “bearers of hope in a world of despair.” He talked about people who think working for nuclear disarmament and other causes is not living in the ‘real world.’ “The real world,” he said, “is where people have not lost their humanity.”
Brendan described the impact of Pax Christi, CND and the Greenham Common women in England on a generation of young people in Ireland who would become activists for peace. As peace and disarmament advocates we need to be welcoming and listening to the youth of today concerned for the nuclear threat to their future and the earth. The billions spent on nuclear weapons production are resources taken from meeting the health, housing and hunger needs of the world’s poor.
The power of divestment
Maura Keaney spoke about the origins of Amalgamated Bank in the labor movement of the early 20thcentury, and their commitment ever since to social causes and ethical principles. She spoke about the powerful effects of shareholder action and putting pressure on banks and financial institutions through divestment and other campaigns. “Corporate pressure literally saved people’s lives in apartheid South Africa,” she said.
Amalgamated Bank is an inspiring part of a still small but growing movement to divest from the nuclear weapons industry. “It’s not a financial risk for the bank,” she said. “It’s actually just good business.”
Brendan spoke about the campaign currently underway to divest the $63 billion New York City pension fund from the nuclear weapons industry. A majority of NewYork City Council members have signed on to a letter from City Council’s Finance Chair Danny Dromm asking the City Comptroller to remove nuclear weapons companies from their portfolio. “We are also hoping soon to release a City Council resolution in support of this,” he said.
This was a powerful and moving event, full of passion and commitment to a world without nuclear weapons from a spiritual, moral and practical perspective. What this uplifting panel demonstrated more than anything else was the power of individuals working with and in their local communities to draw attention to the threat of nuclear annihilation, and taking their own unique action to stand up and resist this grave, costly threat, with a focus on meeting the real and very present needs of humanity.
Our house may be on fire, but within this open circle are some of those clearly hearing the call and greatly encouraging each and all of us together to renew and redouble our efforts while there is still time.