FROM A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT IN BELFAST
THE bitter reaction of people in Britain, as reflected in letters in the CATHOLIC HERALD, to the apparent equivocation of some Irish priests to the violence in Ulster is causing controversy and concern here.
The Church's Correspondent of the Belfast Telegraph, for example, asserts that one either condones what the gunmen and bomb planters are doing or rejects it. There is no honest means of having it both ways.
One implicit danger of equivocation, he argues, is estrangement in inter-Church relations. Another, more fraught with menace, is the ultimate future of the Church in any part of Ireland forced to submit to a revolutionary I.R.A. victory.
At the recent Maynooth seminar organised by the Association of Irish Priests, Dr. Garret Fitzgerald said Christians were scandalised by the chauvinistic utterances of some priests.
SCANDALISED If sympathy was withheld from the victims of I.R.A. bomb attacks because they were mostly Protestant, that was sectarianism, not Christianity. If it was withheld for reasons of solidarity with one group of Irish people against another, that, said Dr. Fitzgerald, was politics—not religion.
From Cardinal Conway down, terrorism in any form from "any side" has of course been generally condemned
outright. It is the priests in daily contact with the sufferMg of innocent people in I.R.A. dominated ghettos who mainly leave themselves open to charges of indulging in semantics.
There is a thin line between "necessary force" to fight injustice and "inevitable violence" to overcome oppression.
'GHETTO PRIEST' Fr. Desmond Wilson could be described as a "ghetto priest." He is a curate of St. John's parish in West Belfast, where families are plagued by nocturnal military raids on their homes and know the deprivations caused by internment without trial.
Repeated condemnations of violence, said Fr. Wilson, became in the course of time not only useless but harmful. It was utterly untrue to say simply that the use of force was "un-Christian."
The response of Catholics to Communists in America was force. The response of protestants in Rhodesia and South Africa to possible loss of power was force.
Fr. Wilson recalled that when the Ulster Covenant was signed in 1912 to oppose Home Rule, even by force of arms if necessary, the Protestant Churches gave the project their blessing and Protestant clergymen were the first to sign.
It was hypocrisy, Fr. Wilson said, to hold that the use of force was against the principles and practice of Christians. They had used force and conti&.,ed to use force. Whether they called this legitimate force or violence there came a time when Christians admitted that only force could solve their problems.
Granted that force might sometimes be justified, Fr. Wilson also said he personally believed that what Christians should be discussing was not whether force was ever justifiable because by their actions they had shown they believed it was, but "rather whether we have reached the point in our affairs where it is in fact justified."
The duty of Christians, said Fr. Wilson, did not end with the condemnations of violence. It began there. Far too many people condemned violence as if that was the sum total of all the duty they had towards the people for whom they were responsible. If a community created injustice it created almost inevitably a violent response.
ALTERNATIVES "Like many others. I detest the use of violence against anybody," said Fr. Wilson. "But there are so many kinds of injustice — some of them extremely refined — in our society that I wonder if we have any right to hope that counter-violence can be staved off indefinitely.
"One cannot help reflecting in our situation that the only advice worth listening to is from people who have experienced the cost and the sacrifice involved in steadfastly refusing to use violence themselves." priests believed that the alternatives to violence had not been worked out properly, especially by the people who should have done so. The courts, the Churches, the political parties, the British Army had all abused people.
it was no wonder people turned around to their leaders and said: "All right, then, you say violence is not allowed. Tell us then what is allowed," and so far no one had given any reasonable alternative.
To qualify the Churches' abuse of the people, Fr. Wilson says: "They have not recognised the rights of people to express an opinion freely. They have not recognised the freedom of individual conscience and they have threatened people with the most awful sanctions for doing the most simple things.
"For example, they have threatened them with hell fire and damnation for things which are really quite ludicrous and unimportant. And in other ways, too, they have controlled the flow of money and controlled the decisionmaking in our society.
"This has been very serious indeed, and the result is today that we are left without leaders and without resources."
And in reply to Dr. Fitzgerald, Fr. Wilson said his belief was that what was being offered on the one hand by the official I.R.A. was a Marxist state and on the other, by the Provisional I.R.A., is a "National Socialist" state. The clergy wanted neither of those.