Page 4, 18th December 1970

18th December 1970
Page 4
Page 4, 18th December 1970 — A poor way for Christians to debate

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Locations: Canterbury


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A poor way for Christians to debate

by Douglas Brown

HAT moral attitude should British Catholics adopt on •the question of the sale of arms to South Africa? It was in the expectation of clarifying my ideas on this difficult matter that I attended the debate organised in Church House, Westminster. last week by the Catholic Institute for International Relations.

The advance publicity for the occasion stated that Cardinal Heenan had raised the arms issue with the Prime Minister on November 9. There was no indication, however, of what His Eminence had actually said; and this, I presumed, was in accordance with his recent statement that, when he had any matter of public policy to raise, he preferred writing to Downing Street than to Fleet Street.

It seemed to me strange that a moral issue between the People of God in Britain and their Government should remain a Cabinet secret, and I hoped that something of the Hierarchy's attitude on this matter might filter down at the CIIR meeting, in spite of the failure of the English Justice and Peace Commission to make up its mind.

I was disappointed. Bishop Grant of Northampton, in the chair, after uttering a harmless platitude or two, confined himself to introducing the speakers. He did not even deign to reply to the cantankerous Mr Humphry Berkeley's comparison between the silence of our own bishops and the lead given to the Church of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I did not go to that meeting. after all, to hear yet another condemnation of apartheid. I did not want to listen all over again to the strategic case for strengthening the working of the Simonstown Agreement.

I was concerned neither with the economic nor the diplomatic arguments for and against the sale of arms. What I had come for was a sincere and thoughtful discussion, between Catholics of differing political views, of the central moral questions involved.

Of the four principal speakers only Mr Dennis Brutus addressed himself genuinely to Christian values. He is a man of the highest integrity who has himself undergone many sufferings in the cause of his people's freedom, and everything he says, in that beautiful voice of his, is worthy of respect.

But as a Cape Coloured, he is a victim of apartheid and not an observer of it like ourselves. His ethical prob lem is different from ours, and to that extent his speech was irrelevant.

For the rest, "Room at the Top" John Braine mounted a crude attack of world communism; Mr Berkeley, after making an embarrassing fuss because he was not allowed to speak last, delivered a ranting oration that would have sounded better at a Trafalgar Square demo: while Mr Patrick Wall, MP, trotted out the kind of blinkered political arguments so often heard from Tory backbenches in the Commons.

The discussion, in fact, descended to the level of a party wrangle, with debating points scored on this side and the other. just as though we were in the middle of an elec• tion campaign. There was nothing new in it. and Iiffic that was specifically Catholic or Christian. No one answered, or even asked, such fundamental questions as these: e Is it right, by the symbolic outlawing of a particular social system. to encourage those who suffer under it to rise against it when one has no serious intention of corning to their aid?

• Can we be sure that apartheid will for long remain economically viable? If it fails to do so, would not the consequent social revolution in South Africa be accomplished more successfully within the existing power structure than in conditions of artificially induced anarchy?

9 R cvolui ions, "just" or otherwise, occur when they are historically ripe. Have outsiders the right to intervene in this process?

a To what extent arc antiapartheid manifestations outside South Africa a substitute for tackling race prejudice at home, or for working for a more just division of wealth between all the nations of the world?

• Does the Universal Church, in the spirit of Populorum Progressio, have a special responsibility in the South African situation? If it has. what special contribution to the discharge of 'that responsibility can British Catholics make?

Only one member of the audience last week sought to raise the discussion to the right dimension. He proclaimed himself to be a Jew, and said he had come to the meeting to learn the spirit in which Christians, after two thousand years of what they claimed to be divine guidance, met to hammer out their attitude to a problem like this. He confessed he would go back to the Synagogue profoundly unimpressed.

Shortly after that, His Lordship of Northampton closed the meeting. pointing out that there might be a power-cut and he had a train to catch.

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