Bishops put a cat among the pigeons
IT IS almost a year since Cardinal Hume led a delegation of five bishops to the Foreign Office to see Mr Francis Pym, then Foreign Secretary, about the state of the arms race, and to present him with a 14-page document expressing their fears for the way things were going.
The English and Welsh hierarchy has a tendency to caution on nearly all issues, and the disarmament question has been no exception. Yet a great deal of water has gone under the bridge in the year spanning the Iwo November meetings of the Bishops' Conference, and even staunch Catholic supporters of the peace movement have been surprised at how far the bishops have changed their attitude in that year.
Even last December, when they approached Mr Pym, the bishops had reservations about the Government's policy of deterrence as a defence system. Now, with the advent of cruise missiles, they have said the "new situation would appear to make it more difficult for the Government to demonstrate convincingly its commitment to a policy of progressive and mutual disarmament".
The fact is, that during the past year Cardinal Hume and the bishops have been lobbied repeatedly to take a firmer line on disarmament, especially by the Catholic peace movement, who have been trying to convince them that deterrence is, effectively, dead.
Another considerable influence was a confidential meeting of the hierarchy early in the new year at New Hall, near Chelmsford, when they listened to experts, both theological and strategic, on the whole question of the morality and 'practicality of deterrence.
The theological advisers were Fr Gerard Hughes Si, head of Philosophy at Heythrop College, London, and Fr Roger Ruston OP, of Blackfriars, Oxford. A strategic, expert, Mr Paul Rogers was also called in.
Fr Hughes is'known to be a supporter of the morality of deterrence. The nub of his view could be summed up in a chapter he contributed to a recently published book, The Cross and the Bomb.
"I should have thought it a reasonable view that the avoidance of nuclear war was of overriding moral importance. In that case, the possession of the deterrent, even though it involves the intention to wage nuclear war, is not merely not wrong, it might be argued to be obligatory."
His views apparently differ considerably from those of Fr Ruston, who has argued (in a Justice and Peace Commission booklet): "Anyone who looks squarely at the evidence must sec that it (deterrence) has been a complete failure on all essential matters", and pointed to the coming of cruise as evidence of this failure.
Paul Rogers is p lecturer in peace studies at Bradford University and was a prominent delegate at the 1980 National Pastoral Congress. He has written extensively on nuclear weapons and generally supports CND.
Since then the attitude of various hierarchies, especially the Americans, has had an impact, as has the powerful rhetoric of Mgr Bruce Kent. Mgr Kent is believed to have both enemies and supporters among the hierarchy. But whatever their individual feelings, the bishops cannot ignore him.
But the biggest impact on the bishops has undoubtedly resulted from the bellicose attitude of Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan, backed up by the "we-told-you-so" stance of the Catholic peace movement. Sources say that Mrs Thatcher has been prevailed upon by senior advisers to modify her warmongering attitude to the Soviet Union, because of its counter-productive effect on opinion leaders like Cardinal Hume.
Various Catholic peace supporters, notably members of Pax Christi, have expressed such strong opposition to the arms race, and especially to cruise, that they have become involved with law-breaking nonviolent direct action.
Pax Christi has made its position on cruise abundantly clear. At a conference two weekends ago it stated its opposition to the missiles because, it said: "As nuclear weapons with indiscriminate effects, they can have no moral use; as war fighting weapons ready for use early in war, they lower the threshold with conventional weapons; the Geneva talks are not really for disarmament but for arms control and do not include thousands of cruise missiles elsewhere; cruise missiles, planned and designed well before SS20 Soviet missiles, constitute a unilateral increase in Nato weapons".
This has been the sort of line adopted by other people in the Catholic peace lobby, including Roger Ruston and Paul Rogers. Even Gerry Hughes told me "If they destabilise, they arc a bad thing" and admitted " the level of deterrence is far too high. But how to get it down is a political issue, not a moral one."
Roger Ruston said "I do not think thc cardinal's statement can be taken as simply an endorsement of present policy on nuclear deterrence."
Paul Rogers, who was surprised at the bishops' "antagonism" said "We are many years beyond the stage of minimal deterrence. That is why the bishops' statement tends to put the cat among the pigeons."
There are many who still have reservations about Cardinal Hume's Times article as being too soft on the Government. They would like to have seen a complete condemnation of cruise by the cardinal and the bishops. But the underlying shift in the cardinal's thinking has been recognised, and there is warm support for his initiative in writing the article at all.