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Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire
UK News

Dean of Westminster Abbey regrets critcism of nuclear deterrent service

by Cara Bentley

On Friday, Westminster Abbey hosted a service for the Royal Navy 'recognising' fifty years of the UK having nuclear deterrents at sea. 

The ceremony was attended by the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, and the Abbey's Dean did the bidding and address. 

Very Rev Dr John Hall prayed that the navy would never have to use the weapons but added: "We give thanks for all the thousands of people who have designed, built, supported, and crewed the submarines during these past fifty years and for their families, and we continue to pray for the life and work of the Royal Navy, in particular for its submarine service."

In his address, the Dean spoke about a Japanese bishop whom he had once heard speak about his experience of witnessing the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. The Dean explained how different things were now, with nine countries said to have nuclear weapons and that major global conflicts, he said, had been largely avoided. 

He referenced the controversy around the event: "Since we announced our intention to hold this service, I have received very many personal letters, and our communications team a very large number of emails, telling us that the General Synod, the governing council of the Church of England, had voted against nuclear weapons. Moreover, they said, the message of Jesus was about peace, not violence. They asked us repeatedly to abandon this service. Clearly we have not done so, and are proud to be holding it here in the Abbey.

"The General Synod of the Church of England did indeed have a debate last year about nuclear weapons at the time of the centenary of the 1918 armistice. However, the Synod did not call for unilateral nuclear disarmament but asked Her Majesty's Government to respond positively to the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which had not been signed by the UK, and to reiterate its obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"As a Christian Church, as followers of Jesus Christ, we hear what Jesus has to say about peace. 'Blessed are the peacemakers' is one of the Beatitudes, a profoundly rich and important saying of Jesus...True peace is only to be found in Jesus Christ himself; the systems of this world do not of themselves make for peace, though we are obliged to work for peace as far as we possibly can. It is to that goal that our armed forces exist; indeed the only legitimate aim for any country's military capability is securing peace."

The Bishop of Colchester, Roger Morris, criticised the Dean's involvement in The Spectator, saying: "The Ministry of Defence has been clear that the celebrations planned for this year also act as recognition of the innovation and skill of those who designed and built nuclear weapons. That is something that I cannot condone in a place of worship."

He continued: "Churches have been embracing this message of peace for hundreds of years. In the UK there is a long and proud tradition of Christians working and praying for peace. The vast majority of denominations are opposed to nuclear weapons and just last year the Church of England General Synod passed a motion which called on Christians to 'work tirelessly' for the eliminations of nuclear weapons 'due to their indiscriminate and destructive potential'. Many will find it impossible to square the circle between that motion and the service today."

The Dean wrote on twitter that it was: "Regrettable that the Bp of Colchester decided not to discuss the service with me, rather than simply criticising without information". 

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