Religion and Party Politics
SIR, -During the past few weeks you have been publishing reports on developments in Holland following the recent pastoral letter of the Dutch Hierarchy. While admitting that the historical background to the development of the party system ft -Holland makes any facile comparison with the political situation iri England misleading. this document, which in effect sets DutCh Catholics against Liberal, Labour, Socialist and Communist parties alike, must trouble not a few consciences, even in England.
And the support the Dutch Protestant Hierarchy gives to the pastoral does not allay this disquiet, for the Protestant parties in Holland tend to the extreme right. Three years ago, in private conversation, some Dutch Catholics were able to look forward hopefully to the day when political divisions would be based on political programmes and not on religious or anti religious groupings-a day which riow aeems further away.
It is clear from the weakness of the Catholic parties in Italy and France that religious groupings are not a firm basis for a political programme. The Dutch Government has been weakened on occasion for the same reason. At the time of the Indonesian revolution, for •example, the indecisiveness • of the Government in face of a crisis was partly due to the Catholic members of the coalition being unable to agree on a consistent policy.
One is loath to exprese anxiety over the policy of the hierarchy of a foreign country, wherecircumstances are so different from here, but the situation in Holland does remind me of the attitude of several Belgian •priests during the time of the Leopold troubles: "If the King goes, that is only the beginning. The Socialists • will . have our schoois
next!" . . .
We feel sure that is further airing of the question would be of interest to many of your readers. We have heard that on reading your headline announcing the pastoral, two ladies, lifelong Conservatives, joined the local Labour Party at once. Perhaps others have left similarly con cernedA. Johns Ph.D.(Lond.) . (Mies)A. M, Barnet(
Our Dutch CoriespondeM writes: The Dutch Bishops' statement on political unity among Catholics in -the Netherlands, which actually only confirms the Hierarchy's guidance on this point, should be seen against the background of the Dutch political situation, which is completely different from that in this country. The progressive policy of the Catholic People's Party, the largest in the country, has by its constant application of the principles of social justice and charity as laid down in the Papal Encyclicals, greatly contributed to the welfare of the country as a whole. To preserve and promote this great good the Bishops have repeated their call for unity and have asked all Catholics who belong to other political groupings to examine their consciences as to whether under the circumstances they are justified in supporting other political parties.
In the case of the Netherlands Socialists the Bishops have, moreover, pointed to certain dangerous trends within that party. The arguments of the Dutch Bishops are therefore of a far more positive character than those attributed by the letter-writeri to, the Belgian Catholics.
As far as. Indonesia is concerned, the Dutch Catholics and the Ditifch people as a whole are the last to be blamed for developments there.
• Meanwhile, as the Catholic Labour Party "mein hers are at present examinifig their position, it seems wise that Catholics 'abroad should abstain from criticising the Netherlands Bishops. whOse •stateffient of course does not apply to any political party outside their own province.