Page 6, 4th March 1966

4th March 1966
Page 6
Page 6, 4th March 1966 — A N Irish Catholic actor went so far as to conclude

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Locations: Tokyo, Bombay, Moscow, Rome, Lisbon, London


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A N Irish Catholic actor went so far as to conclude

a denunciation of Archbishop Roberts by declaring: "He is possessed of a devil." But an Anglican journalist writing in The Guardian described him as "One of the recognisably saintly figures at the Council

. . .

He is acknowledged to have had a marked influence on the Council, and developments arising from the Council aggiornamento brought him, without any of his seeking, into the limelight. As his influence grows. and friend and foe become each more immoderate in praise and blame, people are beginning to ask, what is the truth of it all?

In appearance he is barrelchested and broad-shouldered out of proportion to his height, as if he had been built to endure heavy burdens. His face is what novelists sometimes describe as "craggy". His laugh is not only hearty but long.

"Your Grace" is an address he dislikes. He explains: "Father was good enough for God and it's good enough for me."

He takes his vow of poverty literally. is always conscious that whatever personal austerities it may involve, a married man with children has a far harder struggle today. He accepts criticism when he feels it to be honest, and is without self-importance. Equally, he is not afraid to be the odd man out when a matter of principle is at stake.

A fellow bishop, without naming Archbishop Roberts. but plainly insinuating to whom he referred, wrote in a Lenten pastoral (apropos new ideas in the Church) of "rogue-elephant" prelates. No description would be wider of the mark. More perceptive than the first bishop, another one said recently: "The trouble with Roberts is that he is a hundred years ahead of his time."

Things would doubtless have been very different had he remained Archbishop of Bornbay. It was not just a question of giving up power and the prestige that goes with it, but of making himself vulnerable to humiliations and frustrations that do not touch a man protected by official standing.

The Holy See gained by his achievement in Bombay as well as India, Indian Christians had been ignored and Vatican personnel, including popes, defied. The Portuguese, invoking what was in effect an historical accident, provoked virtual schism.

IT was characteristic that on his way out to Bombay in 1937 he called at Lisbon to discuss difficulties from his rivals' point of view. The interviews explained many of the tensions that persisted ; Salazar still thought of Portugal's contribution to the world as a divine mission to civilise and Christianise — the words were, to him, synonymous.

Arrived in India he enjoyed the fruit of his Lisbon calls almost at once. He began and carried out reforms of parish distribution and administration, social services, and campaigned against inter-racial and interreligious strife for the rest of his period of office.

With the end of the war in Europe came the beginning of the end of European ecclesiastical control in Bombay, but no one else in Bombay knew it. The Archbishop simply wrote a letter to his people in May 1945 explaining that he was leaving on "ecclesiastical and military business" and asked for prayers. Then he went to Rome to try' and get himself out of a job.

in the introduction to his book Black Popes he explained the British-Portuguese system of ecclesiastical government, adding: "Obviously, pious generalities about the universal and supra-national character of the Church would not forever meet the needs of Indian Christians governed, under papal treaty, alternately by British and Portuguese."

The Archbishop's solution was to request the ending of the Concordat of 1928, to be followed immediately by his resignation. This meant that the Vatican, Portugal and Britain would all have to agree to Indians assuming sole responsibility for the metropolitan See of Bombay. But Portugal was most reluctant to make any change and if Archbishop Roberts were to resign under the Concordat it would simply mean that a Portuguese bishop would succeed.

A south Indian Jesuit, with an Indian • name, and • no obvious connection with Bombay, and especially no involvement in Goan politics, might have been found. Such a man would have been Archbishop Roberts' choice. In the event, Fr. Valerian Gracies, a Goan diocesan priest, was nominated.

On July 18, 1950. the Concordat was formally terminated, the Padroado became a dead letter, and Archbishop Roberts' resignation was formally accepted. It was announced, without reference to him, in Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, as due to his ill-health.

AFTER resigning from the See of Bombay the Archbishop elected to return to the English Province of the Society of Jesus.

Studying and praying about the problem of modern warfare, he found himself working with peace groups of varying shades of opinion and different religious beliefs. He became a sponsor of Pax (main)y but not exclusively Roman Catholic) and was associated with the Society of Friends, the Felloe ship of Re

conciliation (interdomination) and with the Anglican Canon Collins and his Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

He was both misunderstood and misrepresented. Even to sympathisers, he had to emphasise frequently that much as

he detests war in general and firmly as he is opposed to any kind of nuclear warfare, defensive or otherwise, he is not a pacifist.

He does not see how unconditional pacifism can be reconciled with the Church's teaching on a just war and on the right to self-defence.

The fruit of many years' work and prayer on this subject came during the third session of the Vatican Council. He had not intervened publicly during the first two sessions. but when the famous Schema /3 on "The Church in the Modern World" came up, he was ready. By that time he had come to the conclusion that the least—but the essential—intervention of the Council was to make an unequivocal declaration of the rights of conscience.

He said : "A thought very solemn and disturbing is that we Catholic bishops have very seldom accepted in practice or even in theory the right of conscientious abstention from war unjust in origin or methods. By contrast fifty years ago during the First World War, when England first imposed conscription. it was also established by law that conscience must not be forced, that a hone fide objection reasonably established must be accepted. Since then nearly all the countries who share in the English tradition have followed the same example.

"1 beg the Council to show the world that our concern for freedom of conscience is not a matter of theory only or of expediency, but of real devotion to that freedom with which Christ had made us free."

AS his activities in this direction increased, so did criticism. Sonic of his critics were torn between a recognition that he was patently sincere and horrified at behaviour so different from the conventional episcopal fence-squatting. These people. fair-minded but bewildered, decided that lie was being "exploited".

But he is not so simpleminded as to allow that. He refused a request from Lord Russell to join the Committee of One Hundred when it was first launched. He refused an invitation from the British Peace Committee to take part in a conference in Moscow. But he accepted that both were sincere in their endeavours to secure peace and wished them well though he did not subscribe to their methods and ideology.

*Typical of his advice on conscientious abstention is this, given to an airman serving with the R.A.F. (May. 1960): ".. . My own position today is substantially your own and we follow the traditional Catholic line of thought:

1. The view that war is not intrinsically evil: 2. That military obedience is limited by Divine Law;

3. That individual conscience has its place, notably when the laws of our own country allow for conscientious objection.

"Your duty is now to inform your own conscience; mine, as I see it, to help you do this, not to make a decision for you . . ."

The Archbishop's concern with the right to ask questions stems from his belief in the importance of the principle of authority and his interpretation of Christian authority: the subject owes obedience. but intelligent obedience; the superior may only wield authority within clearly defined limits.

He developed these ideas and gave specific instances of modern abuses of power within the Church in a chapter he contributed to a symposium Problems of Authority, edited by John M. Todd (Darton, Longman and Todd).

He says: "About seven years ago, I wrote a book called Black Popes of which the subtitle was Authority: its Use and Abuse, concerned with the functioning of courts in Rome and in the dioceses.

"With increasing frequency conflict is set up between Christian law and civil law. To re solve such conflicts is one reason why the Church has her own courts.

"What I found general was very strong criticism of incompetence and delays, both faults less dis-edifying and less frightening than the harm done to Christian obedience and charity by criticism of authority and not to authority.

"I propose as one of the most urgent tasks for canon law revision by the Second Vatican Council that of judicial procedure. Of the function of secrecy especially, for our generation has seen too much of secrecy; of secrecy cherished by the tyrant as darkness by the burglar. Wherever absolute power has corrupted absolutely (as in the totalitarian regime) the first need of surgeon and of patient is—light. "Are we, in exercise of authority, too possessive, allowing too little to conscience, to personality?"

THE first that he heard of serious charges against him was in May 1960. A letter from Archbishop O'Hara, then Apostolic Delegate in London, informed him : ". . . Certain activities during your Grace's recent stay in this country unhappily left me no other alternative but to refer them to the Holy See. Archbishops and bishops here were genuinely embarrassed, complained to me. as was their right, requested me to make their feelings known to the proper authorities.

"Rather than prolong this painful recital, allow me now to quote in full the letter of Cardinal Mirnmi, Secretary of the S. Consistorial Congregation of February 2, 1960, N.1297/50, which was to have been the subject of our conference . . ." (The burden of the letter from Cardinal Mimmi was that the Archbishop should keep silent in future. In other words the accusations against the Archbishop had been heard and the case judged.)

The Archbishop replied to the effect that: 1. The charges could and would be proved false.

2. That allegations had been heard, judgment given and punitive action taken before the accused even knew that he had been charged.

3. The action taken had immediately resulted in grave consequences -it had rendered him officially suspect as a bishop and made it necessary to refuse invitations to work in American universities.

SOME three months after the first exchange of letters between Archbishop O'Hara and Archbishop Roberts, another letter arrived from the Apostolic Delegation. This informed Archbishop Roberts that a plenary session of the Holy Office had been held concerning a book which he had written six years before. This was Black Popes (referred to above, published in England in 1954; subsequently published in America. France and Spain).

The Holy Office required that "scandalous" portions of the book should be omitted or modified in subsequent editions. Archbishop Roberts wrote that : 1. There was no question at the moment of new editions.

2. The publishers had been informed at once and had put the obvious question : "What were the passages denounced as 'scandalous?"

Archbishop Roberts took his case to Rome.

Pope John agreed to set up an inquiry, but the Pope died without its being carried out, The Archbishop told roe: "At intervals after my interview with the Pope certain incidents occurred which lent urgency to a decision. as when one of the Sunday newspapers with a large circulation in Great Britain called the Holy Mice on the telephone from London after learning of Archbishon O'Hara's many denunciations.

"I certainly do not forget that we are most strictly forbidden by the gospel and even by reason to trespass upon the sole right of God to pass judgment. Indeed, this may be the place to record that Archbishop O'Hara was a sick man." And so the case rests.

The issues of nuclear war and contraception, both impinging on population and starvation, had always seemed to the Archbishop to be interrelated, and among the most important facing the Church today.

THE Archbishop's stand was basically the same as that he had taken on war: he asked questions and he pleaded for the rights of the individual conscience.

So when he applied to speak in the debate ("The Church in the Modern World", chap. IV, article 21, "Marriage and the Family") the script he sent in stressed open inquiry: "Let the Council give a charter of freedom, Of enquiry truly free . . ." was the aspect he urged. The same thing happened as when he had applied to speak on war. He was not called. though by that time a number of his writings on the subject had made headlines in the world's press.

As with war, the Archbishop's speech is now somewhere in the Council archives. In it he says:

"The Catholic position, never subject to change. is that Christ demands the allegiance of every human being, and that the fullness of his message is with the Catholic Church. centred in Rome: secondly, it is also at present the Catholic message to every human being that contraception is forbidden. not only by revelation, but by the natural law.

"All the non-Christians of the world, therefore. constituting as they do the maiarity of the human race, have the right, perhaps the duty. to question us closely on the matter of the natural law. Are we absolutely certain that the doctrine. as we state it. comes from the Light that shines upon every man who comes into into the world?

"Our Catholic people frequently describe their dilemma as having to choose between their religion and their family life.

"Our present Schema reflects a new approach, but only an approach. A few bishops have already anticipated this approach by encouraging the fullest, freest, most open debate on this question. Let the Council give the full weight of its authority to encourage this example and extend it to the whole Church.

" it give to married people. to priests. to doctors, as well as to all separated brothers anti to the nonChristians of 'the whole world, a charter of freedom, of enquiry truly free, truly open, truly sincere. an enquiry truly befitting a kingdom not of fear but of love."

There were a number of attacks, some serious as when he was delated for his views, but in the main opposition was behind the scenes, and outside a small circle of peace workers most people learned only slowly that he was taking an "odd" line of which other prelates disapproved.

IT was otherwise with contraception. He wrote an article in Search, the privately circulated Catholic newsletter, that came like an explosion. It was not just his co-religionists who reacted with shock. The intransigence of the Church on this matter, since the publication of Pius XI's encyclical Cowl Commbii, was a byword. No "orthodox" Catholic in these islands had then questioned it publicly. Certainly no bishop had.

It was only a matter of weeks before there was a statement from the English bishops. This. too. seas reported by all the leading newspapers. and the Sunday Times. gave it particular prominence.

Archbishop Roberts replied 10 the English bishons from America. pursued there by four London newspapers. His article was published in the Evening Standard, simply because the editor was the only one. among those asking for an article, who had sent him a copy of the English bishops' statement.

In January 1965, another storm blew up, caused ironically by the Archbishop's doing his utmost to avoid further misunderstandings.

He was invited to a Foyle's Literary Luncheon along with other contributors to the book Objections to Roman Catholicism (Constable). The book had appeared some months previously, without causing any particular stir. The Archbishop's chapter is entitled "Questions to the Vatican Council : Contraception and War". He did not say in it anything on contraception that was basically different from the line he had taken before.

He accepted the invitation to luncheon. Then the publishers announced that he had cancelled it and immediately there was an outcry. The Guardian headlined a front page report : "Archbishop silenced by R.C. Authority". The other papers followed up, in full cry after the mysterious "authority".

It transpired that the Jesuit Provincial, Fr. Terence Corrigan, absent from London on sick leave. had sent a note "requesting". only, that the Archbishop reconsider. Since it was not possible to discuss the matter, the Archbishop acceded. It seemed a little hard in the circumstances that he was described by The Guardian, albeit admiringly, as "this turbulent Jesuit".

ONE ran survive anything, it has been said, except death; and in The Art of Survival, a morbidly fascinating book C. C. Troebst shows how one may do so (W. H. Allen, 355-).

In these days of brisk and efficient communications, when a man may girdle the earth, traversing successively its most torrid and frozen zones, in airconditioned comfort, it is easy to forget that engines still break down and batteries still fail.

After a series of hair-raising case histories of people lost at sea. in the eternal snows, in the desert, or in the tropical jungles, the reader is less inclined to accept with complacency that the life-saving equipment available to sea and air travellers is mostly part-worn, inefficient and out of date.

As well as being full of important information, this book reads like a thriller.

Hugo Meynell The Travel and Holiday Guide sponsored by the Sunday Times is good value -though a section on car hire abroad would he a useful addition in subsequent issues (Nelson, 10s.1. Three other more personal travel hooks that arc recommended are Nina Enton's Sanin's Magic Coast (W'eidenfeld & Nicolson. 36s.): Phoebe-Lou Adams' 1 Rough Map of Greece (Hutchinson, 25s.): and James Kirkup's Tokyo (Phoenix House. Mts.).

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