Nuclear Disarmament & The Archdiocese of Santa Fe

See below for recent press & media related to Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester’s Pastoral Letter “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament”

Nolan’s Oppenheimer treats New Mexico as a blank canvas

New Mexicans are integral to the history of atomic development and testing, but they’re nowhere to be seen on screen.

“We’ve been slept-walked into a new nuclear arms race, arguably far more dangerous than the first,” said John C. Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe. “I grew up in the duck-and-cover generation. Perhaps some of you remember that. I felt chills many decades later when I read that Robert McNamara, defense secretary during the Cuban Missile Crisis, said that we survived that crisis only by luck. Luck is not a sustainable strategy for the survival of the human family.”

Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, emphasized the danger from renewed plutonium pit production at Los Alamos, which he sees as both unnecessary for nuclear deterrence, and as risking development of new nuclear weapons.

BY KELSEY D. ATHERTON | July 28, 2023

In Christopher Nolan’s three-hour biopic “Oppenheimer,” released last week, the Manhattan Project comes to New Mexico largely because J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) wishes it so. The film was shot in the Land of Enchantment with a hastily assembled Ghost Ranch set serving as the film’s freshly constructed Los Alamos. “Oppenheimer” features New Mexico as setting, backdrop, and refuge for the transplant scientists and military men who spent World War II developing the atom bomb. The film does not show the people already living in New Mexico, neither before the first shovel hits the dirt nor after Trinity’s radioactive fallout creates the first downwinders.

The Results Are In! Staff at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant Recognized as 2022 Arms Control Persons of the Year – SANTA FE ARCHBISHOP JOHN C. WESTER RUNNER-UP! Thank you for voting!

ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION | January 13, 2023 Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, director for communications, Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

(Washington, D.C.)—The Energoatom staff at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) were selected as the 2022 Arms Control Persons of the Year through an online poll that drew more than 3,500 participants from nearly 80 countries.

Zaporizhzhia staff gathered Feb. 16, 2022, for a day of unity celebrated by Energoatom’s employees. (Photo: Energoatom)

Zaporizhzhia staff gathered Feb. 16, 2022, for a day of unity celebrated by Energoatom’s employees. (Photo: Energoatom)

The annual contest is organized by the independent, nongovernmental Arms Control Association to highlight positive initiatives—some at the grassroots level, some on the international scale—designed to advance disarmament, nuclear security, nonproliferation, civilian protection, and international peace, security, and justice.

The runner-up in this year’s contest was Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, nominated for preaching the nuclear disarmament gospel in a religious context. His January 2022 pastoral letter reflects the Catholic Church’s long history of speaking out against the threats posed by nuclear weapons and calls on U.S. citizens to take “concrete steps toward abolishing nuclear weapons and ending the nuclear threat.”

The December 2022 issue of Arms Control Today includes an interview with Wester by editor Carol Giacomo titled: “Making the Case That Nuclear Weapons Are Immoral.

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Making the Case That Nuclear Weapons Are Immoral: An Interview With Archbishop John C. Wester

If nuclear weapons are ever eliminated, it will be the result of actions big and small at every communal level, from international leaders to civil society.

Arms Control Association | December 2022

(Photo by Leslie M. Radigan)
(Photo by Leslie M. Radigan)

The Reverend John C. Wester occupies a unique role in this continuum as the Roman Catholic archbishop of Santa Fe, whose archdiocese is home to the Los Alamos and Sandia national nuclear laboratories and site of the first Manhattan Project nuclear tests. In January, Wester issued a pastoral letter, “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament,” which called for the abolition of nuclear weapons and declared that the archdiocese “must be part of a strong peace initiative.” He had a compelling basis for action: In 2021, Pope Francis shifted the church’s position from accepting deterrence as a legitimate rationale for nuclear weapons to decrying the possession of nuclear weapons as “immoral.” Even with the pope’s admonition, however, Wester is finding his peace initiative slow going. He discussed his efforts with Carol Giacomo, editor of Arms Control Today. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ARMS CONTROL TODAY: You often tell the story of visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2017. It almost seems like an epiphany. How did that trip and other forces, including serving as the top Roman Catholic Church official in Santa Fe, home to Los Alamos and Sandia, propel you to take on the mission of eliminating nuclear weapons?

Archbishop John C. Wester: Until I came here to Santa Fe, I was pretty much like I believe most people are, lulled into a false sense of complacency.

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Archbishop renews call for dialogue on ridding world of nuclear weapons

“Congress should have the courage to begin to help lead us toward a future world free of nuclear weapons…In particular, I call upon the New Mexican congressional delegation to end their support for unneeded, exorbitantly expensive plutonium pit production for nuclear weapons. ”

| October 23, 2022

Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, N.M., offers a reflection on the urgent need for nuclear disarmament during a prayer service for United Nations diplomats at the Church of the Holy Family in New York City Sept. 12, 2022. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CNS) — The world still has not learned “the essential lesson” of the Cuban Missile Crisis that “the only way to eliminate the nuclear danger is through careful, universal, verifiable steps to eliminate nuclear weapons,” said Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“It is the very nature of these weapons that the possession of any nuclear weapons is an existential danger to all,” he said. “And Pope Francis has been explicitly clear that ‘the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral.’”

He renewed his call “for dialogue on the existential issue of eliminating nuclear weapons” and said New Mexico’s congressional delegation should help lead this dialogue,” given that the federal government spends billions in the state on weapons production while New Mexico “remains mired at the bottom of numerous socioeconomic indicators.”

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Santa Fe archbishop sees nuclear disarmament as moral imperative

“…If we have nuclear weapons, and if we, heaven forbid, got to the point where we use them on each other, it would be catastrophic. And so I want this to be a conversation, not really a historical one about should we have dropped the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I want to be a conversation on: Should we work toward nuclear disarmament?

KUNM February 24, 2022

Atomicarchive.Com Via WikiMedia Commons / The 1945 Trinity Test in southern New Mexico was the first nuclear explosion.

New Mexico is where the atomic age began and the nuclear industry still looms large here, with Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory bringing significant economic impact.

But the Archbishop of Santa Fe wants the state, and the world, to forge a new way forward. Rev. John C. Wester issued a pastoral letter last month calling for total nuclear disarmament. Wester spoke to KUNM’s Megan Kamerick about how his perspective changed during a visit to cities in Japan where the United States dropped atomic bombs in World War II. This interview is an excerpt of a longer interview that will air on New Mexico in Focus Friday Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.

JOHN C. WESTER: It was just so horrific, especially with the children. I mean, the whole thing was difficult. But I read that the children saw the bright light, and they ran to the window to see what the light was, you know, and I can only imagine what happened either then or shortly after with the exposure to the radiation.

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3 Questions With Archbishop John C Wester

“[Nuclear Diarmament] is a human life issue. This is the sanctity of life because nuclear arms, in fact, could wipe out life as we know it. It can wipe out the planet. It’s an issue of poverty. What are we gonna do in New Mexico? We have a huge issue in poverty. We’re spending, the next [30] years, $1.7 trillion on our nuclear arsenal; that money could go to the poor.

William Melhado The Santa Fe Reporter February 2, 2022

When John C Wester returned to Santa Fe after visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2017, he noticed a jarring juxtaposition between the atrocities committed by the United States government and the proximity of his work to the birthplace of the nuclear bomb. It opened his eyes to the line that had been crossed. As the Archbishop of the Santa Fe Archdiocese, Wester called for a renewed conversation for nuclear disarmament in a pastoral letter published last month.

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The Archbishop and the Bomb

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is seen during a virtual press conference Jan. 11 to discuss his pastoral letter on the growing need for nuclear arms disarmament. (CNS screengrab/YouTube, Archdiocese of Santa Fe)

January 31, 2022 Where does the Catholic Church stand on nuclear weapons? Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe joins co-host Tom Collina to discuss the Church’s historical advocacy of nuclear disarmament and his new pastoral letter urging the global abolition of such weapons.

On Early Warning, co-host Michelle Dover sits down with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher for The Nation, who is also involved with the American Committee on US-Russia Accord. She discusses the current topic headlining in the news: elevated tensions in Ukraine.

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Nuclear Disarmament Urged by Catholic Archbishop in New Mexico, Birthplace of Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Disarmament Urged by Catholic Archbishop in New Mexico, Birthplace of Nuclear Weapons

As the Biden administration reviews U.S. nuclear weapons policy, over 60 advocacy groups, including Veterans for Peace and CodePink, recently issued a joint statement calling for the elimination of hundreds of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“The notion is if you get rid of those ICBMs, you reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war, and it’s a first step towards more rational nuclear policy,” says William Hartung, research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

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Virtual Press Conference & Link to Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester’s New Pastoral Letter “Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament”

Press Conference - Archbishop John C. Wester

Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace – A conversation toward nuclear disarmament

Archbishop John C. Wester’s live press conference to discuss his pastoral letter on the growing need for disarmament.


Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace: A Conversation Toward Nuclear Disarmament (full letter) PDF
Click here for the summary of Archbishop Wester’s letter (please note, it is a legal-sized document so please adjust your printer and paper accordingly).

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Nuclear Watch Interactive Map – U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex

Waste Lands: America’s Forgotten Nuclear Legacy

The Wall St. Journal has compiled a searchable database of contaminated sites across the US. (view)
Related WSJ report: