in face of the racialist policy being pursued by the Smith regime in Rhodesia, the Catholic bishops of England have remained silent? This silence contrasts unfavourably both with the statements of our bishops in Rhodesia itself and with the courageous pronouncements of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
—D.K., London, N.W.
Answer: While confessing to being no more immune than is the questioner to occasional feelings of discontent at what bishops do or fail to do, I would suggest that, no matter how prone we may be to engage in what has been described as the favourable Catholic post-conciliar blood-sport of "bishop baiting", for once in a while we might admit to sympathy for the position of the Hierarchy.
Surely the critics cannot always be right and, if the bishops are so often criticised for speaking too explicitly on birth-control instead of simply giving general guidance, it is odd to see them asked to be more explicit about nuclear warfare or, as in this case, about Rhodesia and U.D.I. Britain's attitude to U.D.I. raises as grave moral issues as any problem we have had to face as a nation during this decade, but the problem is not simply a moral one and these moral issues are complicated by political attitudes and points of view. Ian Smith and his colleagues have undertaken U.D.I. because they are unwilling to let the majority of the Queen's subjects in their country acquire a controlling voice in its Government, at least in the foreseeable future.
There are two issues involved in all this. There is the moral one of ensuring that all Rhodesians have the maximum opportunity to develop and express themselves as human beings and, secondly, there is a political issue; to me, as to so many in Britain, U.D.I. seems to preclude just such an advance for non-white Rhodesians.
Every Christian is, or ought to be, agreed on the moral aim but it is unfortunately true that by no means everyone is agreed on the best political means of
advancing this moral purpose. While bishops and priests have a duty of preaching, in season and out of season, on Catholic morality, it seems quite wrong for the Church's official spokesmen to lend their support for one. among several possible, political solutions to a problem.
There is no doubt that conscientious Christians hold widely differing views as to the best means of achieving the same moral aim in Rhodesia. There are Catholic supporters for the solutions advanced by the more Right-wing members of the Conservative party and there are others whose only disagreement with Jeremy Thorpe's advocacy of bombing Rhodesian overland supply routes is that it doesn't go far enough.
The Church's teaching on the immorality of racialism is clear and, were the Hierarchy to speak on this clearly moral issue, we could predict' beforehand what they would say. But one of the good points about British Catholicism is that in our country, over the past few centuries, the Church as such has pretty consistently avoided identification with any one political point of view.
When faced with an issue that is both moral and political and in which it is possible to hold various views as to the best political means of achieving the agreed moral purpose, there is a good deal to be said for the British .Catholic Church's traditional reticence and a look round some countries in Western Europe, where we are accustomed to think of the Church as more open and progressive, suggests that at least in this we have chosen the better part.
Constantly to look for a lead from the Hierarchy on politico-moral issues is to adopt an unduly clerical view of the Church; confronted with the stark moral dilemma that Britain faces over Rhodesia, it is surely the part of the mature, adult Catholic to make his own decisions as to how best a moral solution may be achieved through the machinery which this country's political parties offer.