Page 4, 3rd September 1976

3rd September 1976
Page 4
Page 4, 3rd September 1976 — Catholic challenge to apartheid is becoming more determined

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Locations: Windhoek, Durban


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Catholic challenge to apartheid is becoming more determined

'THE NATIONALISTS came to power in South Africa in 1948. Since then their' political position has been unassailable and the opposition weak and ineffective.

They established and codified a system of .

Separation between the races which was meant to be unchangeable --a necessary act of self-defence, an Obedience to the natural law, and all but a religious principle.

Most of the world has condemned them. The voice of the Catholic Church in South Africa has not, however, been clearly heard.

There arc now some two million Catholics in the country, about 80 per cent of whom are black. In fact the Catholic bishops have frequently voiced their abhorrence of apartheid.

• This condemnation came to a climax in the 1972 joint letter from the hierarchy, "Call to Conscience". It said: "A country claiming to be Christian cannot countenance the humanly destructive effects of their system."

They condemned the disregard for human rights reflected in the way that men are directed to work, can be expelled. must carry passes, can have no trades unions, have little access to education, are ill cared for and without a vote.

"In a democratic society the franchise is indispensable to any discussion of human rights. South Africa depends on Africans, Asians and coloureds (mixed race) for 75 per cent of its labour force, yet it denies full citizenship and the franchise to them.

"Whatever happens in the homelands, common justice requires that South Africa face up to the question of granting citizen rights to all who in practice reside permanently in the Republic and have no other country."

The leader of the episcopal critics has been Archbishop Hurley of Durban, and his strictures have often been unpopular with a majority of South African Catholics.

In the past, the Church in South Africa has been cautious, almost timid on the subject. But the imminence of change in Southern Africa cannot now be ignored, and the Church has grown bolder in the face of racial injustice. In the spring of 1974 the South African Council of Churches (the Catholic Church had observer status) met at Hammanskraal and adopted a resolution calling upon members to consider whether conscientious objection to military service was not the right moral response to a call to defend an unjust situation. This net with an angry reply from the South African Government which introduced legislation making it an offence even to suggest the possibility of conscientious objection (Defence Further Amendment Act).

The board of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference stated that, if this were to become law, they would he obliged to disobey and would advise their clergy to do the same. The Bill was passed carrying a five-year minimum sentence. No one has as yet been charged under it. Archbishop Hurley came out strongly in favour of conscientious objection — unless immediate and extensive changes were made in government policy, Over the past half-year the bishops have again spoken out against the migrant labour system. This practice, a cornerstone of the South African economy, obliges more than lamillion men — almost a half of the African labour force — to live apart from their wives and Families, mostly in huge singlesex dormitory blocks. The break-up of family life, affecting one-fifth of the total population, causes immense social suffering and is attended by the evils of illegitimacy, prostitution, homosexuality and rural stagnation.

The bishops have also declared their decision in principle to integrate the 1,050 Catholic schools. This move, it implemented, will conflict with three different laws. it will also flout all the accepted white conventions of the country.

In Namibia, a group of churchmen headed by the Vicar-General of Windhoek. has recently taken a stand against the continued occupation of the territory by South Africa.

At the 1976 gathering of the South African Council of Priests (a clerical forum which advises the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference), a powerful manifesto was adopted that confessed past failures in the area of social concern and expressed the will to be one with the poor and oppressed of the sub-continent. Yet little of all this has filtered down to influence the attitudes of the mass of the white laity. Religious pietism often goes with hard social attitudes, said individual and family morality takes the place of social morality. In this respect the clergy has often not been equal to the task, though there are exceptions. The best known of these is Cosmos Desmond, the author of "The Discarded People," who left the priesthood while serving a five-year banning order under the Suppression of Communism Act, The Catholic Church in South Africa is still largely a missionary Church with a preponderance of foreigners among the hierarchy and clergy, in particular from Irish and German missionary orders. Of the 1,332 priests, few over 300 are South African born.

Many of the cultural habits, assumptions and pastoral priorities of the "colonising" group have crept imperceptibly into the Church's conduct of affairs. At present there are only three black bishops in the 29 dioceses of South Africa and Namibia and a small minority of black priests. Little progress has been made towards adopting church practice to. the needs and culture of the African people. This white and Western dominance is viewed as unhealthy by many and it has recently been suggested that they no longer rely on overseas funds and personnel, but allow lowly local church to develop. The Catholic Church has not remained untainted by race discrimination, though this is gradually being eliminated. There still exists discrimination in wages paid to Church employees and in the standard of church buildings and amenities.

A disproportionate number of church personnel are deployed in the service of the white community. This is very noticeable in education, where whites already enjoy the privilege of free and cornpulsory education from the State, There is limited black representation on church bodies and widespread white paternalism. Protests have been made by the black community on more than one occasion. Recently a paper, drafted by a group of concerned blacks, was circulated by the bishops outlining their grievances.

While the black consciousness movement and the principle of black separatism has the approval of the Catholic Church (at this juncture in the development of race relations), the young and articulate blacks arc nevertheless deeply disillusioned with the Church's performance in the struggle for social justice and have quit in large numbers.

Individual Catholics who have been punished by the State because of their involvement in the fight for human rights, have seldom enjoyed the backing of the body of the Church.

"Call to Conscience" stated: "Legislation and conventions divide even those who are called to live and work together and to share the same bread in Christ."

Racial separation .permeates every aspect of the South African way of life. This seriously distorts the life of the Church. The Group Areas Act provides that there be separate residential areas for the various race groups. As a result most parishes are made up of only one race.

Numerous additional restrictions are placed on social contact between black and white, including the need of a permit for a white person to enter an African township. (Clergy are exempt). Thus the law. supported by the weight of social custom, ensures that the divisions that run through society affects the Church as well.

The dominant Afrikaaner tuoup is of Calvinist origin and

has traditionally viewed the Catholic Church with a measure of horror -die Roomse gepaar ("The Roman Peril"). This is borne out in the immigration policy where there

actual discrimination against Catholics.

However, this prejudice has developed into an appraisal of the potential political threat presented by the Catholic Church, During the sixties the number of black Catholics rose by 74 per cent to 1,539,000 as oppbsed to a general increase in the black population of 35 per cent. This trend is continuing.

Most foreign clergy are now required to renew their residence permit every six months, which is obviously intended to keep them in line. In the past renewals have been refused and deportations have occurred.

Coexistence between the Catholic Church and the Government is uneasy, though there is at present little open hostility. 'File National Governmerit professes to he Christian and so prefers to remove individual dissidents rather than to risk confrontation with a major church.

Over the past decade, the Christian Institute has led Christian. opposition to apartheid, and of the major denominations, the Catholic Church, while still cautious, is increasingly playing the leading role.

With the pace of social change increasing and polarisation between black and white growing inure dangerous, the first signs of a more active and determined Catholic response can just be seen.

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