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Court victories strengthen Catholic groups' protections against 'gender transition' mandates

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic medical groups and employers say their religious freedom position has been strengthened by a federal injunction against mandatory insurance coverage or medical referrals for gender transition therapy.
“This is a victory not just for the Catholic Benefits Association, but for religious freedom itself,” Doug Wilson, CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association, said Jan. 20. “These rulings will protect Catholic employers for years to come.”
“Our members can continue to provide the highest quality employee benefits to their 90,000 employees and their families, while living their religious beliefs,” Wilson said. “These protections also extend to each employer’s insurer, third-party administrator, and to future members of the Catholic Benefits Association.”
The Denver-based Catholic Benefits Association was founded in 2013. It helps employers form and administer employee benefit plans consistent with the Catholic faith and works to protect its employer members’ First Amendment legal rights. It serves over 1,000 Catholic employers, including 60 dioceses and archdioceses, religious orders, colleges and universities, hospitals and other ministries. Seven Catholic archbishops serve on its ethics committee.
With other Catholic groups, the association challenged the federal mandate that doctors perform or refer for gender-transition surgeries—despite objections that the doctor may have to the procedure. The mandate also requires insurance coverage for gender-transition surgeries.
The mandate, issued in 2016, stemmed from the Obama administration’s interpretation of Section 1557 of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care in a number of areas, including sex discrimination. The Obama administration interpreted this to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Department of Health and Human Services said that doctors could not refuse to make gender-transition surgery referrals.
The Catholic groups who challenged the federal rule alleged that the mandate violated their religious freedom by requiring them to provide insurance coverage and medical assistance for gender transition surgeries.
On Jan. 19, U.S. District Judge Peter Welte of the Eastern District of North Dakota granted Catholic groups that challenged the mandate permanent injunctive relief from having to provide or cover gender-transition procedures. The court is the second federal court to rule against the mandate. In October 2019, District Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas struck down the mandate after doctors had sued, alleging violations of conscience.
Wilson was grateful for Welte’s permanent injunction. The injunction protects its members against the 2016 mandates and similar Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules and discrimination claims based on the interpretation of ‘sex’ under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
He said the Catholic Benefits Association’s lawsuit was unique in that it was the only one to challenge EEOC rules and Title VII discrimination claims under the new interpretation of “sex.”
The interpretation of “sex” is newly relevant. In the 2020 decision Bostock v. Clayton County, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “sex” can include sexual orientation and gender identity in prohibitions on workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in the case attempted to keep the changes narrow, but it has already proved influential. President Joe Biden, in his first day in office, signed a significant executive order expanding Gorsuch’s redefinition of “sex” throughout federal law and policy in ways that could have major consequences, including mandatory coverage of gender transition procedures.
Medical critics of the surgical practice say gender transition appears to provide only temporary change in health outcomes, if any. In 2016, Paul R. McHugh, M.D., the former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Lawrence S. Mayer, M.B., M.S., Ph.D., then a scholar in residence in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, reviewed hundreds of scientific articles on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
They found continued high risk of poor mental health incomes for patients who had gone through the transition surgery.
Philosophical, religious and moral critics of the practice question whether gender transition is even possible and whether it gives too much credence to patients’ perceptions of being the “wrong sex.”
The practice wrongly disassociates gender from biological sex, they say.
Criticism of gender transition has become taboo in recent years. Critics face opposition from LGBT advocates and their supporters. Some local laws consider the refusal to affirm a person’s self-perceived gender identity to be an illegal form of “conversion therapy”, but some of these laws are themselves under legal challenge.
Wilson voiced gratitude to Catholic Benefits Association members who had shown “unwavering support” for the legal challenge to the Obama-era rule. He also thanked the co-plaintiffs the Catholic Medical Association, the Diocese of Fargo, and Catholic Charities of North Dakota. Four Catholic groups under the Religious Sisters of Mercy had also brought objections.
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represented the plaintiffs, called the decision a “major victory for religious freedom.”
The Catholic plaintiffs “joyfully serve all patients regardless of sex or gender identity,” Goodrich said on Twitter. “They routinely provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold. They also provide millions of dollars in free and low-cost care to the elderly, poor, and underserved rural areas.”
While Judge Welte granted the Catholic groups an injunction on the mandate’s requirement of gender-transition surgery and coverage, he dismissed their abortion-related claims, saying concerns about mandatory abortion coverage were addressed by a 2020 rule from the Department of Health and Human Services and other legal interpretations in force.
Catholic challenges to other health coverage mandates have proven successful.
In 2018, a federal judge has ordered that $718,000 in compensation be paid to the Catholic Benefits Association after its successful religious freedom legal fight against mandated health care coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortifacient drugs, that would have violated Catholic beliefs.
The companies that make up the benefits association had collectively accrued $6.9 billion in fines for not providing the coverage. These fines were eliminated by a federal judge’s March 2018 ruling.

Virginia bishops oppose abortion bill passed by state senate

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Virginia bishops opposed a bill allowing for taxpayer-funded abortion coverage that passed the state senate on Friday. 


The bill, SB 1276, would permit abortion coverage for any reason in health insurance plans on Virginia’s taxpayer-funded health exchange. The bill was introduced on Jan. 12 and cleared a senate committee on Mon., January 18.


On Friday afternoon, the Senate approved the bill by a 20-17 vote along party lines—on the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.


Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond stated their “deep disappointment” with the vote.


“Abortion is not health care; it ends lives instead of healing them,” the bishops said.


“On this day when we reflect in particular on the more than 60 million unborn lives lost since the Roe v. Wade decision, and on every day, we continue to advocate with relentless determination for health care that affirms every life, born and unborn,” they stated.


Virginia set up a health exchange with the federal passage of the Affordable Care Act, allowing for citizens to shop for health plans on the state’s “marketplace.”


SB 1276 struck a phrase clarifying that health plans offered on Virginia’s exchange would not cover abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or when the physical health of the mother is at risk due to the pregnancy. 


The state’s bishops had been outspoken against the bill. “Virginia should not subsidize abortion on demand with taxpayer funds,” Jeff Caruso, director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, told CNA on Friday prior to the vote. 


“The exchange is taxpayer-funded. Taxes pay for managing the exchange, and for subsidizing health plans in many cases,” he said, explaining how the bill would subsidize abortion coverage.


Virginia’s state legislature passed an abortion bill in 2020 that allowed physicians assistants and nurse practitioners to perform abortions; it also struck down existing requirements that women be informed about the abortion procedure and receive ultrasounds before having an abortion, and deregulated safety standards at abortion clinics.


Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law on April 11, Good Friday--an act which the state’s bishops called “a particular affront to all who profess the Gospel of life.”


A companion bill to SB 1276 is also being considered in the state house of delegates. The bishops called on delegates to vote against the bill.


The state’s consideration of taxpayer-funded abortion is taking place as the federal government is also considering repeals of pro-life protections against public funding of abortion.


The Biden administration is reportedly set to reverse the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal funding of foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions.


House and Senate Democrats have also signaled a desire to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortions in spending bills. House Democrats passed a COVID relief bill last year without protections against taxpayer funding of abortions included, but the measure did not pass the Senate.


The Virginia bishops noted on Friday that the state’s current prohibition of coverage for abortion-on-demand in its exchange “is consistent with the federal Hyde Amendment, in place for more than four decades and which most Americans support.”


“Tragically, the Senate today took a far different path,” they said.

Portugal’s Catholic bishops suspend public Masses amid rising COVID-19 cases

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Public Masses will be suspended in Portugal from Saturday, the country’s bishops have announced.

The Portuguese Episcopal Conference said on Jan. 21 that it was taking the step due to the “extreme gravity” of the coronavirus crisis, reported ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language news partner.

“Being aware of the extreme gravity of the pandemic situation that we are living in our country, we consider that it is a moral imperative for all citizens, and particularly for Christians, to have the maximum sanitary precautions to avoid contagion, contributing to overcoming this situation,” the bishops said in a statement.

Portugal is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 deaths. The country, which has a population of 10 million, has recorded 609,000 cases and 9,920 deaths as of Jan. 22, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

This is the second time that the bishops have suspended public worship. The first was in March 2020, when the pandemic arrived in the country located on the Iberian Peninsula, bordering Spain. The restrictions were eased at the end of May.

The bishops said that public Masses would be suspended from Jan. 23 -- the day before the country’s presidential election -- along with catechesis and other pastoral activities that required people to gather. They called on priests to offer livestreamed Masses. 

The bishops had called for the suspension or postponement of baptisms, confirmations, and marriages earlier this month.

They said that funerals could be celebrated according to norms issued in May last year, which require mourners to maintain a social distance.

A Lenten retreat for the bishops, scheduled for Feb. 22-26, has also been canceled.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, which has been hit hard financially by the pandemic, will broadcast three Masses and two rosary prayers daily while public Masses are suspended. 

The Masses, which will be transmitted via the shrine’s website, will take place at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. local time. The rosary will be recited at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. local time.

Shrine rector Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas said: “We know that it is not the same to be physically present or to be able to follow on television, but that is the one possible way we have to participate now and therefore we want to be present with you through this difficult moment.”

Prosecutor sees no grounds for investigation of negligence claims against Polish cardinal

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- A prosecutor in Poland indicated on Thursday that he saw no grounds for an investigation into allegations that Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz failed to report claims of clerical abuse.

The 81-year-old cardinal served as an aide to John Paul II until the Polish pope’s death in 2005. He was then appointed archbishop of Kraków, retiring in 2016.

A spokesman for the District Prosecutor’s Office in Kraków told Polish media on Jan. 21 that the prosecutor had decided that there was no basis for an investigation after assessing a report submitted by Łukasz Kohut, a member of the European Parliament.

Kohut contacted the prosecutor’s office following the broadcast in November of the program “Don Stanislao: The other face of Cardinal Dziwisz,” shown on TVN24, a Polish commercial news channel.

The 82-minute program, presented by journalist Marcin Gutowski, accused the former personal secretary of St. John Paul II of failing to investigate clerical abuse claims while serving both in Rome and Poland. 

Kohut, a member of Poland’s left-wing Wiosna (Spring) party, said in a Jan. 21 statement that he would lodge a complaint against the prosecutor’s decision.

Following the broadcast of the television program in November, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference called for the Vatican to address the claims against Dziwisz.

In a Nov. 10 statement, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki said: “In reference to yesterday’s TVN24 report entitled ‘Don Stanislao: The other face of Cardinal Dziwisz,’ in which Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz is accused of neglecting to investigate cases of sexual abuse by clergy, I hope that any doubts presented in this report will be clarified by the relevant commission of the Holy See.”

“At the same time, I would like to note that the Church in Poland is grateful to the cardinal for his many years of service at the side of St. John Paul II.”

Dziwisz has also said that he would like to see the allegations clarified.

“It is not about whitewashing or hiding possible negligence, but about honestly presenting the facts,” he said in a Nov. 9 statement. “The victims’ welfare is of paramount importance. Children and young people can never again suffer in the Church the wrongs that took place in the past.”

“I am ready to fully cooperate with an independent commission that will clarify these issues.” 

Biden, Harris state their support for abortion on Roe anniversary

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 11:05 am (CNA).- President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris stated their commitment to abortion on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision on Friday.


In a statement marking the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade— the Jan. 22, 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.—the new president and vice president said they were “committed” to codifying Roe in law, and to appointing pro-abortion federal judges.


“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe,” their statement read.


“In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack,” Biden and Harris said.


Biden, who is Catholic, promised on the campaign trail that he would codify the 1973 ruling if elected as president.


The codification of Roe aims to ensure that, if the Supreme Court were to overturn the Roe ruling, federal law would still uphold legal abortion under the terms of Roe. The ruling had recognized legal abortion performed before the “viability” of the unborn child, but allowed states to ban abortions post-viability.


Biden has also supported taxpayer-funded abortion, most notably by calling to repeal the Hyde Amendment in 2019. That policy, enacted each year as a rider to budget bills, bars federal funding of abortions.


He has also promised to overturn other protections against taxpayer-funded abortions or abortion advocacy, such as by repealing the Mexico City Policy; that policy bars federal funding of foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.


The rescinding or reinstatement of the policy is traditionally among the first actions a new president takes upon entering office. On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci—White House chief medical advisor for COVID-19—told board members of the World Health Organization that the administration would be repealing the policy in the “coming days.”


As of Friday afternoon, Biden had not yet officially announced a repeal of the policy


While campaigning for president in 2020, Biden also said his health care plan would include abortion coverage, in subsidized health plans offered on a public option.


In addition, on Friday Biden and Harris both promised to work to “increase access to contraception.”


As vice president from 2009-2017, Biden presided over the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate which ultimately brought the Little Sisters of the Poor and Catholic dioceses to court.


The mandate employers to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and some drugs that cause early abortions in employee health plans.


Biden, as a presidential candidate, said that he would remove religious exemptions to the mandate that were granted by the Trump administration to the Little Sisters and others—thus possibly heralding future court battles with the sisters.


On the day of Biden’s inauguration as president, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—president of the U.S. bishops’ conference—said he was praying for Biden and noted areas of agreement and disagreement between the bishops and Biden.


“Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics,” he said in a statement. “We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors.”


“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today.”


The U.S. bishops will engage with Biden with the aim of starting “a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families,” Gomez said.

Why a prohibition on sex discrimination could actually promote abortion

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 10:05 am (CNA).- Members of Congress are looking to resurrect a constitutional amendment banning sex discrimination—one that Catholic groups have warned could promote abortion and transgender ideology.


On Thursday, members of both chambers of Congress introduced a joint resolution to affirm the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).


Originally approved by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification, with a deadline of 1979, the proposed constitutional amendment forbids sex discrimination. It states that “[e]quality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”


Catholic groups, including the Virginia Catholic Conference and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), have warned that the language in the amendment could be broadly interpreted to include protection for various issues including abortion and gender-transition surgery.


They have also said that the ratification of the amendment is dubious, as some of the 38 states ratified it after the deadline given by Congress and five other states had rescinded their ratification.


By 1979, the ERA failed to receive support from the necessary three-quarters of states (38) for ratification; even after Congress extended the deadline until 1982, it did not have the support of 38 states.


However, several states have continued to ratify the amendment in recent years with Virginia claiming to be the 38th state overall to do so.


On Thursday, members of Congress—including Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Mary.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), introduced a joint resolution to remove the deadline for ratification and honor the actions of the 38 states.


Three of the members—Murkowski, Speier, and Reed—are Catholic.


“For survivors of sexual violence, pregnancy discrimination, or unequal pay, the ratification of the ERA will be a critical step towards equal justice,” Rep. Reed said on Thursday.


The USCCB issued a fact-sheet on the ERA in Jan., 2020, explaining its concern with the amendment.


The conference said that when the amendment was initially considered by states in the 1970s, supporters often denied that it included protections for abortion; more recently, however, supporters of the amendment have said it does promote abortion.


For instance, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) stated in 2019 that the ERA, if ratified, “would reinforce the constitutional right to abortion by clarifying that the sexes have equal rights, which would require judges to strike down anti-abortion laws because they violate both the constitutional right to privacy and sexual equality.”


Thus, the ERA could possibly be used to strike down state and federal restrictions on abortion.


Additionally, the conference warned that the amendment could also promote access to other immoral procedures such as gender-transition surgery, and access to facilities based on one’s gender identity rather than biological sex.


If the Supreme Court extended federal civil rights protections against sex discrimination to also include sexual orientation and gender identity—as the court eventually did in the Bostock decision in June—then the ratification of the ERA’s prohibition of sex discrimination could result in “a radical restructuring of settled societal expectations with respect to sexual difference and privacy,” the conference said in Jan., 2020.


Religious groups such as homeless shelters could also be forced, against their beliefs, to provide access to single-sex facilities based on gender identity and not biological sex, the conference said.


In 2019 members of Congress proposed measures to remove the original deadline for the ERA’s ratification, and the House in 2020 passed a measure removing the deadline; the effort failed in the Senate.


It is unclear if the efforts to retroactively remove deadlines would succeed in the courts.

Pro-life group says campaign finance bill could unfairly limit their speech

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 08:45 am (CNA).- A pro-life advocacy group warns that a new campaign finance reform bill could unfairly restrict their communications.


Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the For the People Act of 2021 (H.R. 1), framing the bill as a top priority of the 117th Congress. In a joint statement, Pelosi, together with Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), said the reform bill was needed because “[o]ur democracy is in a state of deep disrepair.” 


A companion bill to H.R. 1 has been re-introduced in the Senate as well. 


Supporters of H.R. 1 say it would shed light on “dark money” in politics, or spending by political-advocacy groups such as 501(c)4 organizations which are not required to disclose their donors. 


However, the pro-life group March for Life Action--the political advocacy arm of the non-profit March for Life--says the proposed legislation is so broad, it would treat small-dollar donors like lobbyists. Thus, it would limit their communication with supporters and require the disclosure of small donors--possibly affecting future donations.


“It’s less about a direct threat to life as it is about how we can communicate, either to elected officials or to the grassroots about problems in legislation,” Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, told CNA in an interview on Thursday. 


He expressed concern that these small donors would become the subject of unwarranted scrutiny “especially in this atmosphere we have today.” 


“Say a donor gave to us because they wanted to help fund the Virginia state [pro-life] March--even though they have nothing to do with our work on judicial nominations, we would have to release their names to this federal database,” he said. “It exposes donors for certain entities, especially if you even remotely work on judicial issues.” 


In the event of a Supreme Court vacancy, McClusky argued, his group would be “limited in what we can and can’t say about the next nominee.”


In the joint statement introducing the legislation, House Democrats cited “rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special interest dark money” in the 2020 elections as problems their bill seeks to help overcome. 


They stated their “commitment to advance transformational anti-corruption and clean election reforms” by passing H.R. 1.


The statement added that the bill “will protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, hold elected officials accountable and end the era of big, dark, special-interest money in our politics.”


McClusky added that his group has not been the only one to oppose such legislation; the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the 2019 version of the bill. At the time, the organization said that the legislation would “require disclosure of an overbroad number of donors.” 


A 2019 ACLU letter notes that under the proposed bill, “many donors to issue advocacy organizations may be surprised to find themselves held responsible for communications they may not know about, or, potentially, even support.”


“It is unfair to hold donors responsible for every communication in which an organization engages,” the ACLU letter stated. “Moreover, it is unclear how such an overbroad requirement serves the government’s interest in providing the electorate information about who is supporting or opposing a candidate for office.”


The ACLU did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they will oppose the 2021 version of the bill.

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Catholic bishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hail nuclear weapons ban treaty

Rome Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki welcomed the United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons that came into force Friday, while expressing disappointment that Japan was not a signatory.

“As Catholic bishops and Japanese citizens of the A-bombed cities, we share Pope Francis’ confidence that a world free of nuclear weapons is possible and necessary ‘to protect all life,’” the two bishops wrote in a joint statement Jan. 22.

Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki and Bishop Mitsuru Shirahama of Hiroshima hailed the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as an “effective measure for the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

The nuclear ban treaty, which came into force on Jan. 22, is the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades. It was signed by 86 states, including the Holy See but excluding the world’s nine nuclear powers.

The United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Israel, and other countries possessing nuclear weapons did not sign or ratify the treaty, nor did some ally countries of nuclear powers, including South Korea and Japan.

The Japanese bishops said that the “last major barrier that must be overcome before all countries join the treaty … is the persistence of the deterrence theory held by nuclear-armed states and countries such as Japan under the so-called nuclear umbrella.”

“The Japanese government argues that ‘it is necessary to maintain the deterrence of the United States with nuclear weapons under the Japan-US alliance.’ But as the only country to ever be attacked with atomic weapons, Japan should take the lead in signing and ratifying and play a role in promoting dialogue toward nuclear disarmament between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states,” they said.

Pope Francis visited the ground zero site of the 1945 nuclear attack on Nagasaki on his most recent international trip in November 2019. About 70,000 people died instantly and in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki and another 75,000 by the end of the month.

Nagasaki was a center of Catholicism in Japan for more than four centuries. When the bomb was dropped, 8,500 of the city’s 12,000 Catholics were killed instantly.

“This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another,” Pope Francis said.

In an interview published on Jan. 21, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher said that the Holy See actively participated in the drafting process of the nuclear ban treaty and that “many of its provisions recall directly or indirectly the centrality of the human person [and] the humanitarian paradigm.”

He pointed out that the Holy See has ratified all the main nuclear treaties: the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the TPNW, and the safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“We are concerned that the nuclear powers often seem to be turning away from nuclear multilateralism and the negotiating table, as evidenced by a certain erosion of the nuclear weapons architecture, highlighted by the abandonment of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the weakening of the Iranian JCPOA (Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action), the uncertainty of the future of the aforementioned START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty], and increasing military spending not only on maintenance but also on the modernization of nuclear arsenals,” Gallagher said.

“International peace and security cannot be based on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, nor can they be based on maintaining a balance of power or regulating relations by replacing ‘the force of law’ with ‘the law of force.’”

“The ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons is both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative,” the Vatican official said.

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