Page 5, 4th February 1977

4th February 1977
Page 5
Page 5, 4th February 1977 — Fundamental morality involved in investment

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Fundamental morality involved in investment

1 think it was Si Thomas Aquinas who said that no argument was possible unless one could start from an agreed premise. Fr Soane has given me this very opportunity because he concedes in his letter of January 28 that business must be conducted in "decent conditions and pay just wages" if it is to be morally licit.

This is precisely my point. The companies with which the Church is involved have been paying starvation wages. This is a sober fact.

I, therefore, answer Fr Soane by stating that they have been proved to be acting immorally, and for proof I submit the analytic and objective findings of the Parliamentary Select Committee in March, 1974 (a complete reproduction can be found in The Guardian of March 7, 1974).

Two wrongs do not make a right, and 1 feel it will not help the readers to reel off a list of countries whose behaviour is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That point is accepted, but it is not at issue. What is at stake is whether the Church is justified in accepting gifts from companies which have been clearly proved to be involved in exploitation and discrimination, (Fr) Patrick J. O'Mahony Our Lady of the Wayside, Shirley, West Midlands.

Fr Brendan Soane (January 28) has put us all in his debt by helping to make discussion on the South African investment issue possible. But he leaves me with some problems.

I suspect that there is a world of theology to be explored in his distinction between saving souls and working to change a regime which, in the name of a version of Christianity, dehumanises human beings.

Moreover, the article of mine in your issue of December 31 which has caused this correspondence was not an appeal for absolute answers from anyone — rather a request that it should be recognised that the acceptance of certain gifts poses a serious moral problem which ought to be discussed.

What is actually to be done now that the gifts have been accepted is

another matter. There are no easy answers to that problem, especially since, I suspect, that to return them is now legally impossible.

But it is Fr Soane's reason for holding back, so honestly expressed, that most concerns me. He is uncertain: not surely about the principles involved? Not depriving, labourers of their wages, not receiving stolen property, coming to the aid of the victims of oppression, not giving scandal, are all good principles relevant to this situation.

But 1 think that the uncertainty is rather about the matters of fact, for instance about the nature of the apartheid system, about the support given by British companies in financial terms to the South African Government and its degree of importance, about the low wages paid by those same companies, about their lack of moral responsibility (well described by Lord Armstrong at the last AGM of the Midland Bank), about the legal situation of Namibia, and about the opinions of so many exiled Christian leaders about courses of action open to us.

Why this lack of knowledge? To form a practical moral judgment about abortion or pornography one needs to have some knowledge of the present law, of social consequences, of biology and,perhaps of history too.

Mrs Whitehouse, for instance, quite correctly bases her opinions on researched facts. So does SPUC. But on the whole we in the Catholic community are just not aware of the facts about the economic relationships which involve us so deeply in the apartheid issue but which at the same time give us, if only we would use it, great leverage for non-violent social change, I tried in my article to list some of the factors which have led to this unhappy state of innocence. However, there is to be another attempt to make information available for discussion in the near future.

At 7.30 pm on Wednesday, February 16, there will be a showing of the film "Last Grave at Dimbaza," a view of apartheid through African eyes. at the Westminster Cathedral Conference Centre. Afterwards there will be an open discussion about the role of British companies in Southern Africa. The Chairman of the Cathedral Appeal, the Duke of Norfolk. who could not have been inure helpful or fair throughout the whole of this exchange, has agreed to attend. The Appeal Committee will be invited and a spokesman for Christian Concern for Southern Africa will be available.

Everyone who would like to come is warmly invited, and we can only hope that as a result of this discussion we may all get some practical guidance as to the way forward. Apartheid is by no means the only evil social system, but it must rank with the worst.

If we who have in our hands the power to produce some change in a non-violent way do nothing, then we certainly hand Southern Africa to the guerrillas and perhaps the Communists as well. It will be too late then to complain.

(Mgr) Bruce Kent Pax Christi Centre, Blackfriars Hall, Southampton Road, London N.W.5.

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