WE ARE A MENACE TO PUBLIC MORALS
By MICHAEL DE LA BEDOYERE
IHAVE been wondering whether it is advancing years or the nature of world news which is responsible for a hardening of my mental arteries.
Not many years ago I was of the opinion that the views of most men and parties could be reconciled by friendly and intelligent discussion, at any rate as regards fundamentals, and I prided myself on the breadth of mind which enabled me in most cases to see that the other man had a good deal to say for himself.
To-day, I find (1) that I am far more firmly convinced that I am right; (2) that I .simply cannot see how many people can possibly hold the views they appear to hold except through abysmal ignorance or bad faith; and (3) that the divisions between men are apparently leading to positions and statements that are literally grotesque.
The first two constatations—to use a word which should be immediately introduced into the British language—may, alas! be the result of advancing years ; the third is more difficult to explain by subjective causes.
He Said " Menace "
Now something very odd indeed must have happened to make it possible for one Catholic publicly to accuse a number of other Catholics whose lives are not otherwise notorious but who, on the contrary, believe themselves to be engaged upon a good Catholic work, of being " a menace to public morals." Yet that is what a Catholic recently wrote about the Catholic Press and those who run it, in the columns of a well-known weekly.
The curious way in which men to-day who are spiritually near to one another, and know it, find themselves in fact so much on opposite
sides of the fence that they can use
grotesque language about One another does demand an explanation.
I feel sure that the Catholic gentleman who wrote that the Catholic Press was a menace to public morals really meant it. I am sure of it, because I personally know many Catholics who, while they might be more polite in their language, at bottom believe the same.
We All Agree
Yet on the face of it, it is absurd. The Catholic Press has been in fundamental agreement about both
foreign and domestic affairs for many years, and this agreement—which often surprises me—has come about without the imposition of any authority—other than the Faith—and without any sort of consultation or arrangement.
I do not suppose that in the last three years I have been with the editors of other Catholic papers together more than twice, and for the purpose of dealing with some ecclesiastical matter, and I have not seen them individually for more than a few minutes now and then in ordinary social intercourse.
Moreover, it will not be denied that the Catholic Press reflects fairly faithfully the mind of the Hierarchy in so far as the latter is known In regard to domestic and foreign questions, and I at least would be prepared to defend the view that it has reflected the mind of the Vatican—again so far as the latter can be reached in official or semi-official pronouncements.
Nor has this agreement with the Hierarchy and the Vatican come about through the imposition of authority.
In practically every case the Catholic Press has taken its stand before anything in the way of pronouncement or guidance has been available, and it may interest the public to know that in the last three difficult years not more than two or three—if that—directions have come from Westminster; these have also been about purely ecclesiastical or educational questions. Every daily or Sunday paper receives hundreds from Government departments in the same period.
Lastly, the Catholic Press has had throughout this period a really remarkable record of accuracy in news-reporting and in anticipation of coming events.
Those who are familiar with the workings of newspapers know perfectly well that detailed accuracy as from week to week is impossible. The time available between the receipt of news and its publication is far too short to allow of the inquiries and checking that would be necessary if absolute accuracy in every detail were necessary.
In the same way the speed of leader writing and other presentation of views makes it humanly impossible to obtain that degree of consideration and reflection which alone could ensure absolutely balanced judgment to which no one could reasonably take exception. Angels, not men, would have to be journalists to ensure such results.
But taken by and large it is true, I think, to say that the Catholic Press in this country during the last three or four years has presented to the British public the truest version of events with Christian significance and interpreted them in the soundest way. Mexico, Italy, Spain, Germany, the chances of war, even the requirements and behaviour of our own country—in all these cases it will be found that what we have said or suggested has been proved to be the case or to have become generally acceptable some months after the event.
Rare Kind of Boast
This might seem like boasting, but it is not often that an editor is ready to boast about the success of his rivals, and the fact that the compliment is being paid to our contemporaries also should prove my contention, namely that this accuracy and commonsense are not. due to any special merits of any one editor but to the straight and simple Catholicity with which we all try to inspire ourselves.
Now what possible relation can this have to the accusation which, I repeat, is not so uncommon, that we are a menace to public morals?
Perhaps something of this sort has happened. Catholicity, of its nature, is a central position, Its function is not to run one angle or reading of the truth, but to account for everything, putting everything into its right order. Set in a world sharply divided into many clashing and partial aspects of truth, even Catholics approach it with minds deeply affected by history and parties and arguments. Thus the essential principles of the order which it gives turn out to be rather like rows of cubes drawn on paper. You can see them according to the way you approach them either as pushed in or bulging out, and the sharpest division possible arises from the one identical pattern. Indeed, one gets the curious phenomenon of sharpest apparent contradiction where views are nearly identical and the meeting of extremes like Communism and Nazism. This fact, too, is greatly strengthened by the emotions, for nothing shocks one more than apparent diversity between those who look for mutual support.
None the less the position is grotesque, and, like the cubes, due far more to illusion than reality. In the case of Catholics, moreover, it gives profound scandal.
We do, I believe, live in a world of deep conflict, far deeper than before the war, but the question still remains how far illusion or real contradiction lies behind this increasing tendency not to be able to see any good in the views of one's neighbours. Is it real difference? Is it real bad will on one side or another? Is it the hardening of all our mental arteries as the world grows older? Is it simply oneself creeping into mature and old age? And how far is it a mere illusion which could be overcome by a little intelligence, a little concentration and a great deal of charity?