Page 5, 27th December 1974

27th December 1974
Page 5
Page 5, 27th December 1974 — We must do more to remove the causes of violence

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Locations: London


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We must do more to remove the causes of violence

By Fr MICHAEL RICHARDS, Editor of The Clergy Review

When an article by Hugo Young in The Sunday Times on the English bishops and Northern Ireland was described by one commentator as "anticlerical", the epithet seemed to me decidedly odd.

I had read the article and had thought it full of constructive common sense; the idea that Hugo Young was being hostile to clergymen such as myself had never crossed my mind.

In spite of the Nei. that the SPCK persists in addressing me as "The Editor of The Clerical Review", my impression had always been that The Clergy Review, for example, was not generally regarded as leading a conspiracy against the laity.

And anyway, isn't the term "anti-clerical" a bit out of date in these post-Vatican II times? Surely no one should go on thinking in terms of a Church divided into "clergy", and "laity"; such divisions as there are run on quite different lines.

To start from the presupposition that there is a distinct "lay" point of view is to confuse everything from the beginning.

So I went back to Hugo Young's article and still found it fa of commonsense, It will only prevent that common sense from spreading itself around more widely if it is taken as in any way a threat to Catholic authority.

The important point is that he has called upon all Catholics to rise to the responsibilities at present laid upon them. As the bishops themselves have said, in their recent statement, we all need to do far more to uncover and remove the causes of violence. Moral condemnation and other forms of fulminated disapproval are not enough.

portunities, on someone or other's advice, were not taken advantage of is not the fault of the ageing Cardinal who, as he said himself. had become a completely changed person Such a changed and broken man was the man I met in London last year.

Ex-POWs meet

At an excellent luncheon party to mark the passing of an oldestablished firm of wine merchants out of private hands, I met a charming Downside monk. He was Fr Joseph Coombe-Tennant. He had, I discovered, got his MC during a world war much of which had been spent in a prison camp.

When, after the war, he joined the Downside community he was puzzled by the appearance of a fellow fledgling monk. Neither could at first remember where they had met before. Then they remembered that it was when both had been prisoners of war. The other monk was Dom John Roberts. new Abbot of Downside.


Catholics in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland need to work together to detach the Catholic Church in these islands from every association with sectarian nationalism. This is something that Catholics in England, Scotland and Wales should understand very well. We have an honourable tradition of over 400 years of resistance to the identification of Christianity with national aspirations. Whatever Englishmen, or some of them, would still like to believe to the contrary the God of the New Israel is not the God of the English tribe, any more than He is the God of France.

By the same token, He is not the God of Ireland, and one must welcome any moves towards the separation of Church and State in Ireland which serve to bring this out.

In the present circumstances the identification of Irishness with Catholicism only serves to provide a religious sanction however primitive and preChristian, to acts of resistance and violence which are thus elevated into heroism and martyrdom.

A statement by Bishop Cahal Daly in 1972 showed an awareness of the deep religious dimension, as distinct from the merely moral one, at which the Church should he working.

An abuse to which Catholics must plead guilty is the occurrence within Catholic churches or their precincts of paramilitary manifestations at funerals. Such manifestations (I am not now referring to the traditional ceremonial for official State funerals) introduce into the Church elements and emotions totally repugnant to the Christian liturgy of death. They convey to Protestants the deplorable and utterly false impression that Catholic priests arc supporting and blessing the IRA.

The Christian Faith and conscience of our people should be enough to show them that such displays have no place in the house of God, which is a house of peace and love, the house of Jesus, who prayed to the Father: "May they all be one".

The first duty of all the clergy in these islands is to the Word of God and the People of God. Joint action and teaching by all Catholic bishops on both sides of the Irish Channel would be one excellent way of showing this and of preventing "a wedge" from being driven "between the English and Irish peoples in these islands", to use the words of the English and Welsh bishops.

At present it is all too easy for the clergy to see themselves. and for others to see them, as defenders of minority interests. We should not be concerned, for example, so much with "defending the rights of our Catholic children", as with providing schools which will work towards the reconciliation of all elements in the population.

When priests meet for a social evening, they should have their doubts about the propriety of singing Irish protest songs. Perhaps when they do, it will be less easy for them to be mistaken on the Underground. as happened recently, for official delegates at an IRA funeral.

We need to take seriously the studies of anthropologists, historians and sociologists who can show us how easily religion and other social forces get mixed up. It is only too easy for mothers and sisters to urge men to persevere with their hunger strikes in a spirit indistinguishable from that in which they encourage them to go into seminaries.

If we are to undertake this programme we must of course call upon our Anglican and Free Church brethren to do the same. The struggle in Northern Ireland is just as much a religious war as any of the other religious wars in Europe since the sixteenth century. The Thirty-nine Articles can still he used by The Protestant Telegraph as articles of war.

There is a great deal more defusing to be done before Bishop Clark and Bishop McAdoo have finished their work.

Anyone wanting light on this question from a source outside the immediate English-Irish context should read two articles in Past and Present for February and May, 1973, on the link between religious violence and popular conflict in the sixteenth century and in revolutionary France.

When religious belief adds itself to social and economic tensions, the result is such an explosive mixture that anything the clergy may do by way of exhortation or condemnation according to the standard moral rules only makes matters worse.

The answer is, of course, not the removal of religious influence, as the secularists demand, but the replacement of bad religion, primitive, tribal, pagan and pre-Christian as it is, with the good variety.

This means that our loyalty to the Universal Church of God must he lived out and spelt out in local detail and that the bishops must help the rest of us to understand what this involves. This is not being anticlerical; quite the reverse.

"In Victorian Britain, religious feeling needed the ad ditional spur of an association with thwarted nationalism in order to secure the loyalty of the working class" (Henry Yelling, "Popular Politics and Society in Late Victorian Britain", 1974). Have the bishops, Catholic and Anglican, in England, Wales, Scotland

and Ireland — or any of us

Christians for that matter yet discovered a better way than national or class• loyalty of keeping religion alive?

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