Page 3, 15th September 1978

15th September 1978
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Page 3, 15th September 1978 — Doubts on Lively debate on
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Doubts on Lively debate on

worker priests race problems

A fundamental uncertainty about the best way in which the Church can fulfil its ministry to Industry was revealed when the conference debated the world of work.

A general resolution calling for Catholics to unite with other Christians in the mission to people at work was passed by a majority of 73 to 1, but division was more evident when it came to discussing the practical ways in which such a mission could be carried out.

Two schools of thought emerged clearly: those who felt that such a ministry was best conducted by pad-time chaplains who retained their independence from both workers and management, and those who felt that the ministry could be fully effective only if the priests shared the stress and anxieties of those on the shopfloor along the lines of the many "worker priests" who now operates in Europe.

Those who favoured industrial chaplains pointed out that the introduction of worker priests would interfere with the role of lay people to be apostles to their fellow workers, that such priests would be taking valuable jobs at a time of high unemployment, and that a priest on the shopfloor might well be morally comprimised when strikes were called.

Those who favoured a limited experiment in the introduction of worker priests argued that the Church was in danger of losing the working class and becoming a middle-class institution, that many priests were already "worker priests" in the sense that they were fail-time teachers or broadcasters and that the Church should be seen to be present and caring.

The extent to which the conference was divided • on the best methods to use in its approach to industry was reflected in the voting on a proposition introduced by Fr Michael Winter, Chaplain to London University, which called for worker priests to be introduced in Britiain on an experimental basis.

Thirty-eight priests voted in favour of the resolution, 28 against and 8 abstained. IN one of the frankest and liveliest debates of the week the conference passed a resolution deploring the way in which Britain's immigration laws allow alleged illegal immigrants to be detained for indefinite periods and without the right to bail.

The original proposal on racial and cultural tension on the agenda was also passed. This resolution called simply for the bishops to issue practical guidelines on race issues and for the implementation of these guidelines to be discussed at a diocesan and deanery level.

The inclusion in teaching material of visual aids reflecting the multi-racial nature of British society was given as a practical example of such guidelines.

A number of delegates felt, however, that this proposal lacked teeth, and one pointed out that such guidelines had already been issued by the Racial Justice Commission and that the bishops had made their opposition to racism clear on a number of occasions.

Throughout the debate priests from many areas spoke of their practical experience of racism. Fr Edward Butler, Wolverhampton, said he had seen men in Ku Klux Klan hoods in the road outside his church.

Fr Dan Shanahan, of Leigh-on Sea. Essex, stressed the need for

the Church to come to grips with the practical and political aspects of racism and a number of priests spoke of the increasing domination of anti-racist groups by the Left Wing because the Church was failing to take a leading role at local level in the struggle for racial justice.

A number of delegates felt that the strength of concern expressed by the priests was not adequately reflected in the original proposition before the conference, but it was Fr John McCourt of the Liverpool archdiocese who said he felt that the resolution was "too trendy", too generalised and "lacked teeth".

Introducing the new resolution on immigration, Fr McCourt said that what was needed was for the Church to speak out against the injustices that led to so much racial tension and to protect the rights of the black community. The detention of alleged illegal immigrants for long periods without the right of bail was clearly such an injustice, he said.

The resolution was seconded by Fr John Grady, of Sheffield, and support was particularly strong among the delegates from the Westminster and Liverpool archdioceses: 55 delegates voted for the resolution, three against and 13 abstained.




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