by Norman St. John-Stevas
PUBLIC concern about the increase in crime is widespread and deep but we should not allow ourselves to be stampeded into taking panic measures which are in fact irrelevant to the longterm problem of tackling crime in Britain. As my readers already know I do not think that capital punishment should be re-introduced and we should allow the five-year period laid down by Parliament to go by before making a judgment on the effects of abolition.
Equally I am not in favour of re-introducing Bogging for violent crimes although this is also being counselled. The Home Secretary is placed in an extremely difficult position by the sentence of birching imposed by magistrates on a nineteen year old prisoner at Maidstone Gaol for his part in provoking a racial riot there last month.
THE CASE is complicated by the fact that the prisoner is serving a life sentence for the murder of a prison officer. On the one hand Mr. Jenkins has to consider the views and feelings of those who are in the prison service, on the other he has to take into account the whole policy of penal reform which he is pledged to forward.
One of the strongest arguments against reintroducing flogging in general is that it is quite contrary to the whole spirit of present British penal policy which is designed not only to punish but to rehabilitate the prisoner. Despite popular belief, flogging in the past has not been an effective deterrent.
The Home Office has a number of cases on its files which show that birching in the past has often been administered several times to the same prisoner, without effect. In the case of a psychopathic prisoner, flogging will almost certainly make him more violent rather than less. One has also to consider the effects on those who have to carry the sentence out MR. JENKINS has quite rightly said that he will have to consider all the facts of the case and have full prison and medical reports before he decides whether to confirm the sentence or not. Because of the considerations I have mentioned the burden of proof required for the sentence to be confirmed is a heavy one.
There is a further complicating factor in this case, the absence of Mr. Jenkins on a two-week visit to the United States to study police methods there. The delay which must now of necessity take place before a decision can be reached is another reason for refusing to confirm the sentence.
The undesirable publicity which has crystallised around this case would vitiate any good effect which might come from carrying out the sentence. My advice to the Home Secretary is to withhold confirmation.
CARDINAL OTTAVIANI has been in the headlines in the Sunday papers this weekend over a Warning letter sent out to Catholic bishops throughout the world. In fact there is nothing particularly sinister about this letter and indeed it was referred to quite fully in the columns of he 1 ablet in an issue published nearly two weeks before the Sunday Times took it up. The letter is concerned with the opinions allegedly held by some theologians ranging from the errancy of scripture to a humanism which would deny the divine nature of Christ. Cardinal Ottaviani is also alarmed about our old friends "situation ethics" and "relativism" in interpretation of dogma.
I do not think one need be despondent about this letter which seems to me to he much more in the nature of a warning shot across the bows rather than an attempt to undo the work of Vatican II. The suggestion that Pope Paul is about to do a "Pio Nono" and enter a period f reaction is equally ludicrous.
At the same time the incident does call into question the wisdom of sending out such a general directive with the heading "sub secreto". In these days of wide Press coverage there was bound to be a leak and the Church does not emerge with enhanced credit when there is a feeling that somehow repressive machinations are going on secretly behind the scenes. If there is real concern for theological orthodoxy it is much better to bring matters out into the open. a course more in accord with contemporary conditions and the spirit of the Council.
I WAS DELIGHTED to receive a letter in my postbag this week about the progress that has been made in raising money for a statue of St Thomas More in Chelsea. It is strange indeed that there is no statue to this great and distinguished parliamentarian at Westminster but Chelsea is considerably better than nothing.
The only statue in London to St Thomas More that I know of nestles in a niche in Carey Street out of much public view at the back of the Law Courts.
Fr. de Zulueta tells me that £5,000 has been raised including £1,000 generously given by Pope Paul. It is good to think that the Holy See remembers so practically the services of this great Englishman who literally lost his head for defending the prerogatives of the papacy of his time. I look forward 4o seeing a worthy statue of St Thomas gracing the London scene.