One of the UK's most senior Roman Catholics has joined the growing calls for the replacement of Trident to be abandoned.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's Catholics, criticised plans to renew Britain's nuclear deterrent, calling the retention of Trident "immoral".
It comes after religious campaigners and others increased calls to scrap the replacement nuclear system, as pressure mounts on the public purse in the global recession.
Two weeks ago, Ekklesia’s co-director Jonathan Bartley pointed out on BBC1’s The Big Questions that scrapping the plans could provide over £70 billion for the NHS. Two days later, Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, became the first leader of the bigger parties to call for the Trident replacement to be ditched. Joining other smaller parties such as the Greens and the SNP, he said that he was making the move because of the rapidly deteriorating public finances and because the case for nuclear weapons in the post-cold war world was a "complete fiction".
Many churches have long campaigned against Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's Catholics, said retaining any nuclear weapons, with the threat to use them, even in defence, was wrong.
The Iraq invasion had been undermined by the UK having its own Weapons of Mass destruction, he said.
The Cardinal said in the Times newspaper that the moral issues around nuclear weapons must not be overshadowed by issues of diplomacy or finance.
Labelling the moral case as "quite simple", Archbishop O'Brien said the use of nuclear weapons was wrong in all cases and that it therefore followed that retaining them, with the threat to use them if necessary, was also unacceptable.
He went on to say that any "first use" of nuclear weapons would be a crime against God and humanity and that retaliation by a country which involved nuclear weapons could not be justified by arguments of defence, but would rather be motivated by vengeance.
Campaigners have previously suggested that whilst the cost of a replacement for Trident could initially be £20 billion, the realistic total would be £76 billion when annual running costs were taken into account.
A paper prepared for Nick Clegg now talks of total costs amounting to between £94.7 billion and £104.2 billion, suggesting Trident could consume 9.97 per cent to 10.97 per cent of the defence budget. This is equivalent to the entire annual budget of the National Health Service.
The UK Ministry of Defence played down reports at the weekend that it will have to scale back plans to replace its ageing submarine-based nuclear weapons system in order to cut costs as the UK battles recession and a soaring public deficit.