Archbishop John C. Wester recalls the sadness he felt upon seeing the Genbaku Dome, a remnant of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

The domed ruin has been preserved in its damaged state as part of a peace memorial to the bomb’s devastation, in which an estimated 140,000 people died. A second bomb dropped in Nagasaki killed as many as 74,000 people.

Wester said the monument struck a chord in him and the bishops who accompanied him on the trip to Japan in 2017.

“I recall hearing about the wrenching story of Japanese schoolchildren who rushed to the windows of their classrooms, attracted by the bright light of the atomic bomb detonating,” Wester said. “One can only imagine their fate.”

Wester told the story Tuesday at an online news conference to underscore the purpose of a pastoral letter he issued, decrying what he called a more dangerous second arms race and calling for nuclear disarmament worldwide.

He pointed to New Mexico’s two national laboratories as contributing to weapons of potential mass destruction, especially with the budget growing for these programs.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is modernizing its plutonium facility to make more bomb cores, or pits, than it ever has. Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque makes nonnuclear components for weapons and other technologies.

A nuclear security agency is pushing to have Los Alamos make 30 plutonium pits by 2026. The agency also hopes to have the Savannah River Site in South Carolina produce an additional 50 pits by 2035.

A recently passed military spending bill will funnel $1 billion to the lab’s pit operations — a sizable increase from last year’s $837 million and more than triple the $308 million allocated in 2020.

Wester said the lab gearing up for greater pit production in the state he calls home increased his sense of urgency in issuing the antinuclear letter.

“Here is where the nuclear arms race really in many ways began — the manufacture and creating of these nuclear armaments — and having been to Japan and seeing the devastation that was caused by them,” Wester said. “It’s such an important topic that we really can’t dally. The time is now.”

In the letter, Wester contends the current arms race is more treacherous than the Cold War because of multiple nuclear threats from countries such as Russia, China and Iran.

Some nuclear experts share his concerns about proliferating threats. In a recent poll by Foreign Affairs, 20 of the several dozen experts surveyed believed more countries will obtain nuclear weapons in the coming years.

Wester said Los Alamos and Sandia labs could be converted to facilities that use their high-tech equipment and skilled workforces to bolster nonproliferation efforts, which could create new jobs.

Wester agrees with Pope Francis’ antinuclear sentiments.

“Pope Francis has made clear statements about the immorality of possessing nuclear weapons, moving the Church from past conditional acceptance of ‘deterrence’ to the moral imperative of abolition,” Wester wrote in the letter’s summary.

Wester said he knows dialogue about disarmament can be challenging because there are many points of view. “I also know that all women and men of good will want peace,” Wester said. “And the coming together to talk, to converse, to discuss is the only way to rid the world of the colossal threat that nuclear weapons are to our security, to life and to the common good.”

(49) comments

Sasha Pyle

I welcome the truthful, compassionate and courageous stand taken by our Archbishop with open arms. Peace needs all the help it can get. Weapons get more help than they need.

Dennis McQuillan

It is entirely appropriate for religious leaders to advocate for peace and disarmament as the human race struggles to evolve from its barbaric ancestry. The killing, suffering, destruction of infrastructure, waste of human intellect, and unsustainable squandering of natural resources must stop. Nuclear weapons are just part of our ghastly arsenal of tools that we use to kill each other. But, at the end of the day, whether you get bludgeoned, stabbed, shot, blown to bits, incinerated with napalm, or vaporized in a nuclear fireball, you are still dead. I hope that Archbishop Wester’s comments inspire many others to demand that every level of society and government begin moving to end our self-destructive history of using violence to resolve conflict. Writing and adhering to treaties is a good start, and we must disarm and disempower psychopath despots. At no other time in human history has there been a greater need for us to retool “swords into plowshares.”

Khal Spencer

Amen, Dennis. Not to mention, defang all the self-serving oligarchs, many whom are not psychopath despots but just greedy, self-serving people.

Joe Brownrigg


Laura Stokes

Although Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs design nuclear warheads, they have also been suppliers of key technology used for verifying compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In addition, they have contributed key technology for verifying compliance with a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, should such a treaty ever come to be.

Khal Spencer

A public-facing page on the Laboratory's work in these other fields.

I think some of the objections here are that LANL not only has been a design center but will now be one of the nation's pit manufacturing centers. It is a bit of a paradigm-shift in the Lab's historical mission, eh?

Joe Brownrigg

Treaties of which we have withdrawn! Bring them back!!

Steve Sullivan

Mr. Archbishop, please consider this quote by Jordan Peterson: “set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world”. I don’t think we need to go in details…

Emily Hartigan

Mr. Sullivan, I never met a house in perfect order. Your advice would stop all comment or prophecy.

Human beings are human, not perfect.

Joe Brownrigg


Chris Mechels

I’d like to emphasize one major point in applauding Archbishop Wester’s courage to take on the nuclear weapons business in New Mexico ---the inescapable fact that it is a business and so much money is at stake. More public wealth pours annually into Los Alamos to sustain the nuclear weapons business than to any other comparable area of the US for any other federal program. And New Mexico, as the nation’s de facto ‘Nuclear Toilet’ for wastes from the Lab and other US nuclear facilities receives additional funding. It is this money that seals the lips of every New Mexican politician. None dare raise the slightest moral question about the business of nuclear weapons.

As this anecdote reflects Los Alamos’s top priority is its nuclear weapons budget. Jim Jackson, Lab Assistant Director under Sig Hecker hosted a meeting here in Santa Fe where in reply to a negative question about LANL, Jackson replied “We must be doing something right, they keep giving us 2 billion dollars a year’ (The budget is more now).

So is money an impossible hurdle? Maybe not. After all, Americans, Chinese and Russians share a common desire for as good a life for their children as possible. If we can free those future lives from the threat of nuclear weapons we will have done something many think impossible. But against overwhelming economic odds slavery ended in the US, women got the vote after 75 years of struggle and in 1989 the mighty Soviet Union crumbled. All were impossible either for centuries or decades or years.

Archbishop Wester has opened a door to another ‘impossible’ undertaking: loosening the grip of the nuclear weapons business on New Mexico and starting a conversation the rest of the nation can join. To make possible this ‘impossible’ undertaking we will need brains, persistence, time and courage as well as help from the God that inspires Archbishop John Wester.

Cathie Sullivan

Joe Brownrigg

Yes, money is the primary "mover."

Yes, change takes decades. But do we have time???

Good points, Chris!

Joseph Tafoya

I don't necessarily agree that the world would be a safer place without nuclear weapons. History provides evidence that as long as there is a will for a country or people to dominate or subjugate another for whatever reason, there will always be wars. This fault in the human experience has taken more lives than any resulting from the use of nuclear weapons. That is not to say nuclear weapons haven't the potential to destroy the world as we know it. The Archbishop uses the use of nuclear weapons against Japan as part of his argument, but what he fails to include was the use of napalm which took just as many lives if not more and the damage was just as catastrophic to Japan. This tactic was used after conventional bombs were not having an effect on bringing an end to the war. As for the use of the nuclear weapon against Japan, historians are still arguing whether it was justified or not, but I would submit the more time that passes the less support for the argument for its use is lost. What's lost is the impact and suffering our military, our citizens and our country went thru until the bomb was used. Many people believe that we as a nation are creating more nuclear weapons. We have treaties with other countries with this capability that prohibit more nuclear weapons to be created. What Los Alamos is charged with is to remove existing aging weapons and refurbish them with safety enhancements, but other enhancements in order to bring them back into our arsenal. My big fear is for a rouge country namely Iran to get the nuclear capability. That will change the rules of the game.

Francisco Carbajal

Interesting article and subject matter topic. On a serious note, with the threat of a possible nuclear denotation in the Yellow Sea or the Sea of Japan (East Sea), the threat to the global community is the real world we live in daily. While the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is pushing closer to declare war against the United States, why do you think the "Vozdushno-Desantnye Voiska" and the "People's Liberation Army Special Operations Forces" are preparing and planning for their next target of acquisition? Does one really think the United States is shield-free from another 1941 invasion at Pearl Harbor? Who is kidding who? 'Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it or history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." - George Santayana and Mark Twain.

CA Frye

Thank You, Archbishop Wester.

Margaret Eyler

It is the MOST likely situation (I’m open to hear any counter-stats) that the US keeps up its nuclear capabilities to ensure bad (and good) actors don’t actually USE their weapons. When a force of good (us) backs out of the world stage, someone will ALWAYS fill the void, and historically speaking that’s someone evil. The most peaceful world requires a strong US.

As a practicing Catholic, I lost all that was left of my respect for the Archbishop when he started locking us out of mass based on some ambiguous “quota” allowed in the cathedral.

Emily Hartigan

Margaret, as Chris M. demonstrates, there are already enough nukes. Enough to kill everyone, everywhere.

I miss in-person Mass, but the Holy Spirit is right here with us. The Archbishop can teach, but he can neither command nor deny the presence of G-d. Blessings.

Dee Finney

We are very close to nuclear war at this time and need to educate ourselves about the fall out. This new generation of nuclear weapons is madness and needs to stop now. This is 2022 can we please use diplomacy and common sense. Out species and planet will be obliterated with any nuclear strike. The money it takes, the waste they produce and the planetary destruction that will occur. We are already suffering very high rates of cancer close to the lab. We need this money and brain power at the labs to research immediate threats of climate collapse. We need to clean up the waste that already exists from the labs and we need to pray for sanity because this is insanity on every level.

Joe Brownrigg


David Bangs

Way past time for all religions/denominations to stay in their lane and help the congregations with spiritual needs and guidance. Endorsement of political beliefs and candidates, world security and defenses is out of your lane. Tax them

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Indeed, and since this person lives in a glass house, he needs to take care of his own problems before pontificating on political issues, this church is bankrupt for a good reason, but he wants to deflect and obfuscate by changing the subject.

CA Frye

As a very wise elder in our community with the perspective of wisdom from seeing just some of the after effects of the devastation nuclear bombs caused in Japan, AB Wester is in the most appropriate lane ever with very clear visibility. He's simply and crucially reminding us all (no matter our religious/spiritual beliefs) of what really matters, when it comes down to the senseless devastation nuclear bombs (or associated accidents) cause. To anyone here bringing up the Catholic Church's current issues, that is a distraction from the points the ArchBishop is making here.

Joe Brownrigg

So you think only perfect institutions or persons can criticize?

Emily Hartigan

You fail to make the crucial distinctions. Particular partisan advocacy would violate the tax laws. General social justice and peace advocacy is a long, long tradition in the US, perhaps most notably among the Abolitionists, and MLK.

Khal Spencer

Issue advocacy is fair game and the Church is well within the rules condemning nukes or for that matter, abortion, etc. Endorsing parties or going pro/con on specific candidates, such as what a local priest did a few years ago, is a violation. Check the tax law. I've been on numerous 501c3 boards and had to do just that.

Joe Brownrigg


Joe Brownrigg

The "lane" of all good religions is to deal with the very issues you would deny. It would be Irreligious to avoid politics and universal obliteration!

joe martinez

The reason for having nuclear weapons is so that we don't have to use them. They are deterrents. Devastating fire bombing of Tokyo that came before, killed almost as many civilians as the atom bomb. Japan still would not surrender until the atom bombs were dropped. Estimated casualties of the planned invasion if Japan had not surrendered were in the millions. Clearly, very difficult choices for our President at the time.

The weapons mission at LANL is assigned in Washington. The lab has to compete with other organizations for non-weapons work. Non-weapons work can all be done elsewhere. Weapons money pays the rent up there. The free-Tibet arugula crowd that prevails here would like LANL to focus on dangers of microwave ovens in 7-11s. The anti-nuke organizations get paid to protest everything that is LANL

Chris Mechels

Mr. Martinez, it might be helpful to read the REAL history of the bombing. I suggest Gar Alperovitz. I retired from LANL in 1994, and worked for a time in X-Division, which designs the weapons. So far as I know, the moral/ethical use of the weapons is NOT discussed at LANL, its just a business, and like a business they "promote" their weapons to the country. A dangerous game. For deterrence, about 100 weapons would seem to suffice, but for a good business, 7,000 is better. A waste of money, but the real danger comes with use, when 7,000 nukes will bring down our civilization. LANL "should" discuss these things, but they refuse to do so. As our Empire ends, with China's ascent, a very dangerous period is at hand. Ukraine, Iran and North Korea are examples of possible "triggers" to world conflict.

Emily Hartigan


joe martinez

Been around the block a few times Chris. History often depends on who wrote it but that's another story. It is not LANL's job to discuss the morality or to "promote" the weapons. Those decisions are made in DC. Congress appropriates the money based on requests from the agencies. You've been very critical of PVD but he also based his activity on requests from the DoD through the DoE. It was illegal for LANL to lobby congress. Domenici supported the lab but did not promote weapons per se. Opposition to nuclear activity at Los Alamos by New Mexicans here is tilting at windmills. Protests might have an effect in DC but I doubt it. But I guess it feels good for some to get their undies in a twist. The archbishop is from CA and I suspect that colors his thinking. He and the Pope should stick to the faith. I'm a believer and respect their views on Catholicism. I also favor a strong military and the best equipment for them, including nuclear weapons.

Barry Rabkin

I agree with Joe 100% ...

Joe Brownrigg

Did you know that the Roman Catholic Church AND the United Methodist Church (as institutions) declared several decades ago that nuclear weapons are forbidden by them? It hasn't done much good, but the Word is clear.

I know about the lobbying in Washington. LANL's proxies are HEAVY lobbyists and multiple in numbers.

Khal Spencer

"Did you know that the Roman Catholic Church AND the United Methodist Church (as institutions) declared several decades ago that nuclear weapons are forbidden by them?"

Seems to be a rather empty gesture, since there is a very large and lively Catholic parish in Los Alamos and I don't see the Archbishop excommunicating it. I suspect more than a few of the parishioners work at LANL (I've been at a couple of my colleague's funerals in that church). In fact I recall a few years back the Church hierarchy told Father John Dear to make himself scarce during one of the protests in Los Alamos. I got into a big argument about that banishment with the parish priest. I told the priest that as a scientist supporting the weapons program, if I couldn't take Fr. Dear's heat, I should get out of the kitchen and so should the parish. We finally hung up on each other. It wasn't like Fr. Dear was even my friend. At one point he called me the devil.

Well, maybe the Church has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy for Catholics who work on nuclear weapons.

Joe Brownrigg

Excellent points, Chris!!

Joe Brownrigg

Khal, churches (generally) do not have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In this specific case the Roman Church (and others) have stated their position. Many local parishes simply disagree and act on those conceptions. Contrary to popular belief, the Roman Church is not monolithic.

Khal Spencer

The Japanese surrender was complicated but that's a discussion for a different story. The bombs definitely had an effect but still, the big picture was complex.

Good book to read is "Unconditional" by Villanova history professor Marc Gallicchio. He goes through the history of negotiations the Japanese had with the Allies, the discussions of unconditional surrender vs terms, the U.S. war weariness, as well as the attempted military coup d'etat against the Emperor by those who wanted to fight to the last man when he was going to give his surrender speech.

Joe Brownrigg

Contrary to your "historical" view, Japan was ready to call it quits BEFORE the bomb. As described in federal archieves and as explained at the memorial site the Archbishop visited, other reasons for using "the bomb" was to demonstrate to the USSR that they had better stay out of Japan or they might be next. We ALSO wanted to see how much destruction each of those bombs would create.

Weapons at LANL are simply a military-industrial-complex that Eisenhower warned us about. It is a FOR PROFIT agency. We do not need any more pits...or bombs. We need diplomacy. And we need to get back INTO the treaties we've exited.

Khal Spencer

To rephrase Robert E. Lee to the present, it is well that nuclear weapons have made major power war too terrible, lest we seriously contemplate it. I'd love to be Peabody and Sherman and set the WABAC machine up to see what the second half of the 20th Century would have looked like without nukes.

The Archbishop is correct to lament what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the discussion should include what nations did before nukes while waging war. Scores of cities in Japan and Germany (and to a limited degree, England) had been bombed and firebombed by conventional means when war was well...simply war (Among the Dead Cities, by A C Grayling). Check out the casualties in Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, etc. Roughly a quarter of a million people died in the atomic bombings. Including all aspects of war, disease, deliberate extermination, and famine, something like 70-85 million people died in WW II. The two bombs were an asterisk on a worldwide holocaust. WW I was nearly as bad, roughly 40 million dead, some nations almost depopulated of young men, and places like Eastern Europe set up for further years of carnage (The Vanquished, Robert Gerwarth).

To get rid of weapons of war, one has to get rid of war. Otherwise, it will be fought, whether with nuclear weapons or by whatever means are available. Unless, of course, it isn't fought, whether because it's too dangerous (nukes) or because there is nothing for people to fight about (Pope Francis). I'm not actually a big fan of nuclear weapons and I do worry that some day deterrence will fail, but I also wonder about what the the law of unintended consequences would bring should we disarm.

The current issue in the Ukraine, for example, is getting NATO and Russia close to the brink. Its complicated, with Ukraine's history of being part of the USSR and of Czarist Russia before that (as well as being part of the continually reconstituted jigsaw puzzle of Eastern Europe), vs. NATO's expressed purpose of "containing" the USSR and now NATO expansion after the fall of the Soviet state. Now we see Putin's expansionism and desire to restore Russia to its Cold War glory. Let's not forget that the last time the USSR was invaded, it suffered tens of millions dead before finally expelling the N a z i s. Russia doesn't like to be surrounded. I think we are caught by the paradigm of the Cold War and need to escape it.

I think the various recent Popes have the right idea about disarmament and spending the money on making the world a more peaceful place. But that includes all military weapons, not just nukes. Its just getting the various nations, always looking out for the interests of their various oligarchies, to somehow agree.

Oh, and there is nonproliferation work at LANL. It just doesn't bring in the kind of big bucks that the weapons program does ( ), so don't waste your time writing your congresspeople. They love to see the money come this way. New Mexico is addicted to Federal dollars, whether they be bases or national labs. If New Mexico wants to look at the sin of taking money for nukes, it only needs to look in a mirror.

Emily Hartigan

This illustrates the "upside" of the very fallible Church: clear moral leadership on peace.

Mike Johnson

So this person who thinks he speaks for God on earth, is pontificating again about something he knows nothing about and getting involved in issues he has no business in. Maybe he should lecture his about having kids, not pets, like his leader does......

Joe Brownrigg

Mike, "What About-ism" doesn't cut it. Stick to the subject.

mary burton riseley

At last! I am so grateful to read that a prominent Christian leader has spoken out about the immorality and danger of nuclear weapons. It is a myth that these weapons protect peace and safety. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of deaths from the 1945 explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thousands more people have died in their production. Talk to Navajo uranium miners, employees at uranium processing plants like the one at Paducah, Kentucky, downwinders in Utah and Kazakhstan and Tularosa, New Mexico for confirmation of this assertion. As we led the world into a nuclear weapons world, we must now lead all of us out of it, as more countries beyond the present nine contemplate initiating nuclear weapons programs. Thank you, Archbishop John Wester for speaking truth to power.

Joe Brownrigg

Thank you, Mary. . .especially your raising the issues of Navajo people and lands, which are still suffering from our uranium mining.

Greg Mello

The Archbishop's lengthy pastoral Letter is an important leadership effort, very welcome and overdue. It bravely enters into factual details, which it gets largely though not entirely correct. Building on this good foundation, the conversation needs more specificity and application to what is going on at Los Alamos in particular, which is unprecedented and particularly damaging to nuclear disarmament and peace. Unfortunately, the idea that Los Alamos can provide an equivalent number of jobs in peaceful missions is naive and unfounded, which tells us this is just the initial step in a more difficult conversation -- which is exactly what Archbishop Wester himself intended and said. One suggestion in the Letter that had particular merit, in our view, is to have conversations with those who work in the field. This needs to be extended to those who might be recruited to work in the nuclear weapons field. Everyone can do this. These jobs are among the worst blights brought to the state by the labs, as they waste whole lives and the talents of thousands of people. The lack of specificity in the Letter need not detract from the very fine messages that comprise nearly the whole document. All those in New Mexico should be very grateful for this leadership, and join the Archbishop's call for political and personal actions and reflection. And thank you to Scott at the New Mexican for covering this well.

Barry Rabkin

Not an ounce of 'leadership' for the US in the real world. Let me know when Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran stop production of nuclear weapons and stop testing of nuclear weapons or even hypersonic weapons. It would be the absolute stupidest move the US could make to stop our nuclear weapons programs. I am beyond thankful for every person who works in each of the US' National Labs.

Joe Brownrigg

It was the US which exited the arms treaties with Russia.

Joe Brownrigg

Excellent points, Greg!!!!

I would add (again) that the Official stand of the Roman Catholic Church AND the United Methodist Church is against nuclear weapons...not just the Archbishop or the curren Pope or the current bishops in both churches.

Emily Hartigan

Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers, many Christians, Jews, Muslims (Jawdat Said), all advocate for peace. And many secular thinkers, see nuclear weapons as wrong.

Chris M. makes the further, rational point: there are already so many more nukes than needed to blow us all to oblivion. Enough for mutually assured destruction (MAD). More would be wasteful insanity.

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