A communiqué issued today by the episcopal conference explained that "the very existence of nuclear weapons has always posed grave moral questions."
"Their uniquely destructive power means that they belong in a different category from any other weapons; this has always been recognized in the particular attention with which they have been regarded by the Holy See and by our own bishops' conference," it stated.
The prelates recalled that Benedict XVI, in his message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, "argues powerfully that the retention of nuclear weapons does not enhance the security of their possessors or the peace of the world."
"The United Kingdom is now at a moral and strategic crossroads," the bishops' communiqué continued. "Its present nuclear-weapon capability is not expected to be sustainable beyond the early 2020s without major new investment in renewal or replacement.
"Initial decisions about its continuance need to be taken within the lifetime of the present Parliament, which could extend to 2010."
"The Church has always been clear in its teaching about the vital necessity for eventual total nuclear disarmament," the bishops of England and Wales continued. "Our judgment is that, by decommissioning its nuclear weapons, the UK now has a unique opportunity to offer the international community an approach to security and legitimate self-defense without the unconscionable threat of nuclear destruction.
"At the same time it could give a new impetus to the wider process towards total nuclear disarmament."
"We recognize the government's grave responsibilities in these matters of security, both for our countries and the wider world," the bishops stated. "We urge the government to take a long-term view and act with courageous leadership by seeking to make this breakthrough towards total nuclear disarmament."