Archbishop John C. Wester: Help Us Pull Back From The Brink

Archbishop John C. Wester reads his statement during Tuesday’s town hall meeting with DOE officials at the Santa Fe Convention Center. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Archbishop John C. Wester chats with Santa Fe County Commission Chair Anna Hansen prior to Tuesday’s town hall meeting with DOE officials at the Santa Fe Convention Center. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Archbishop of Santa Fe

Editor’s note: The following is the statement made by Archbishop Wester at Tuesday’s town hall meeting in Santa Fe with DOE/NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby and DOE/EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White. The event townhall was requested by Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen.

Dear Administrator Jill Hruby and Senior Advisor Ike White:

My name is John C. Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe. The two Spanish words “Santa Fe” mean the “Sacred Faith” of Saint Francis, the tireless promoter of peace. He is interwoven into his two name sakes: this small, beautiful city and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

My home Cathedral is the Basilica of Saint Francis in downtown Santa Fe. Yet one hundred footsteps away is 109 Palace Avenue, the secret gateway during the Manhattan Project to unimaginably destructive weapons. The Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs, and Kirtland Air Force Base, with the country’s largest repository of warheads, are all within my Archdiocese. Therefore, more money is spent here on nuclear weapons than in any other Catholic diocese in the United States. Because of that, I hope to make the Basilica of St. Francis a gateway to global nuclear disarmament, since I am convinced that the venerable saint himself would want this.

I don’t come here to reproach you. Instead, I humbly ask that you help humanity escape from what President Kennedy called the nuclear Sword of Damocles. After all, I am in no position to cast stones. I have had to lead my own flock through the abyss of sexual abuse cases involving innocent children. I hope and pray for the future well-being of those who were shamefully abused and for the redemption of our local Church, a Church dedicated to the safety and well-being of all children and young people.

Similarly, I hope and pray for the human race’s redemption from what President Eisenhower called “humanity hanging from a cross of iron…” He declared: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed…”

Eisenhower spoke of the Soviet Union. Now, exactly seven decades later, we face Putin’s nuclear threats over Ukraine. But when will it ever end? We must reaffirm that, as Ronald Reagan said, a nuclear war cannot be won. 

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said we survived the Cuban Missile Crisis only by luck. We can’t count on luck when this new nuclear arms race is yet more dangerous than the first. 

I am here to ask you to help us pull back from the brink. Let go of your plans for nuclear weapons forever! Forego your plans for the expanded production of plutonium pit bomb cores.   

Why is future bomb core production even necessary when none is necessary to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing, tested stockpile? Instead, it will all be for speculative new designs that cannot be tested, or, alternatively, could prompt the U.S. to return to testing. This is how an escalating nuclear arms race can spiral out of control, in Eisenhower’s words keeping “humanity hanging from a cross of iron…” 

The Pope took his papal name from St. Francis. Pope Francis has been explicitly clear: “The possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral”. 

But so that I can be clear as well, I am not saying just repent and walk away. No, you have vital things to do. I urge you and the Labs to redouble your efforts to develop verification technologies that will be essential for a future world free of nuclear weapons. Nuclear disarmament must be universal, and must be verifiable. You have an indispensable role to play in that. 

Further, we badly need full and complete cleanup to permanently protect our water resources. Comprehensive cleanup would be a real win-win for northern New Mexicans, permanently protecting the environment, while providing hundreds of badly needed high-paying jobs. 

In closing, no matter what faith you are, we all must have faith that humanity can solve this intractable problem of nuclear weapons. 

A beginning step would be to honor the commitment our nation made 53 years ago in the Non-proliferation Treaty to enter into serious negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament. Redirect the $1.7 trillion planned for so called nuclear weapons “modernization.” Invest it instead towards meeting real national security threats that tangibly impact New Mexicans, such as wildfire caused by climate change, and preventing the next pandemic. 

As Christ our Savior said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” You will be doubly blessed if you can help lead us to a future world free of nuclear weapons. The doors of the Cathedral of St. Francis will always be open for that! Thank you.