THOUGH late in the day, the attack by Fr. Herbert McCabe 0.P. on the position taken up by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales on the South African arms issue is more than refreshing.
As a Catholic and a coloured, I have long been awaiting to be well informed on what the official Catholic position is on this great moral issue of our times. Recent revelations seem to belie what I thought would be the obvious answer.
A United Nations resolution has called in unmistakably clear language, for an arms embargo against the white racist minority Government of South Africa. Britain is a signatory to this Resolution.
The reason for the resolution as everyone knows is. that under a monstrous system of laws in furtherance of racial segregation, a white minority Government has reduced coloured South Africans, to the status of serf, prisoner or criminal who is to be shunned, avoided and cast away at any cost under threat of draconian penal sanctions.
Informed opinion the world over. the forces of social justice (including the World Council of Churches) have in recent times exerted the fullest pressure towards isolating the racist regime until it comes to terms with the conscience of the world.
In the light of all this, momentum has gathered, not only here in Britain, but even amongst the Commonwealth countries, to request the present British Government to honour the UN resolution. Surely at a moment like this, an unequivocal statement from the Catholic Church in Britain, which condemns in outright terms the contemplated sale of arms, would have given the movement a helpful push forward. But instead, one witnesses in disgust a hypocritical compromise.
While last Saturday, the President of the Bishops Con-N ference of England and Wales. Cardinal Heenan, in a letter to the Times came out strongly against Charity Walks as being "unproductive" and "un-Christian," it is indeed, ironically sad to note that the confrontation, if it can be called one, between Cardinal Heenan and the Prime Minister on the arms issue, has been equally unproductive:
In the "warm arm-chair, hot tea" comfort of 10 Downing Street. it is easy for Cardinal Heenan to accept those patently empty assurances of Mr. Heath that the arms will not be used to consolidate the present racist regime, while thousands of Black Africans languish in the dark cells of South Africa's torture prisons. These Africans have only committed the crime ed being nonWhite and of fanning the spirit of liberation.
Mr. Heath's pretext for selling arms (the Soviet Naval presence in the Indian Ocean) is, as it was before. a joke even among his own defence advisers. How he could have fooled the intellectual powers of Cardinal Heenan and his team remains a mystery. It is a mystery which will serve as excellent fodder for future historians on the role of the Catholic Church in Britain and its attitude towards Race and Race Relations. But of course, long after the damage is done.
At least, thank God that Fr. Herbert McCabe O.P. had the courage to express a dissent, which I can only hope is the reactions of most Catholics in this country to the Cardinal's letter to Bishop Grant. Chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission.
StaniSIHUS Ptilk London, W.C.1.
FATHER McCABE is Mdignant. He wants our Hierarchy to condemn the sale of British arms to South Africa, Ile could of course have gone further, and urged the bishops to press Mr. Heath to sell ships and planes to the USSR; this would have precisely the same effect on the safety of the shipping lanes. the balance of world power and our hopes for peace and justice in Africa.
But this would demand a lucidity which Fr. McCabe and "New Blackfriars" have not yet attained. If the South African regime is unjust (and I would not quarrel with that), why sell them razor-blades. let alone helicopters; why buy their gold, why trade with them at all? If the regime is evil — to Coventry with it.
But in that case let us be logical. We must sell no Leyland buses to the Cuban anthill, we must buy no bacon from a Poland that shoots down its hungry workers, we must cut off all trade with America if we disapprove their actions in Vietnam. and we should never have even started trading with regimes so contrary to God's laws or human dignity as China or the Soviet Union. If international trade. in this fallen world, is to depend on moral considerations, let us at least be a little less scierrive/y indignant than Fr. McCabe.
Happily our bishops are more level-headed, and better aware of their competence than their critics. They know that the principles of international peace and justice are very much their concern, but that the practical politics involved are nut — they fall into the layman's field of competence. Father McCabe's attempt to turn the Episcopate into a mouthpiece for his own particular views is an impertinence.
Geoffrey A. Lawman Weybridge, Surrey.
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