HE murder of a policeman and daily reports of brutal attacks by the "cosh boys" even upon old, defenceless women have created a wave of strong feelings throughout the nation and a conviction that some urgent action must be taken.
The cosh, many are saying, must be answered with the birch and the "cat."
"The Catholic Herald," believing that there are sounder and more civilised remedies, related to the fundamental moral and spiritual factors underlying the evil, has this week asked a number of Catholics intimately concerned with the problem to give their views.
Of the eight people approached, two are Labour M.P.s, two are women, three arc priests and one is a police officer.
Their general verdict is: "The crime wave is caused by many serious social factors which can't be cleared up at once. The restoration of corporal punishment as a deterrent is no real or effective answer."
One of' the two M.P.s questioned was fomierly I.ord Privy Seal and Minister of Raw Materials. Mr. Richard Stokes. He began by denying as a misstatement of fact the allegation in a London evening newspaper that he had put his name to a House of Commons motion urging the Government to re-introduce corporal punishment.
"I certainly didn't sign the motion or give my assent to it in any way," he said.
"As to the general question of what should be done to check the crime wave, it's perfectly clear that we can't just let things take their own course.
"The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Goddard. may not he a popular man, but when he insists that action is necessary, we simply must not ignore the advice of so wise and eminent an authority. I confess that myself I have no definite ideas yet about the steps to be taken."
Mr. Robert Mellish, Labour M.P. for the dockside constituency of Bermondsey, said: "I would have been very surprised if there had been any truth in the story of Mr. Stokes putting his name to such a motion. I regard paper gestures of that kind as a waste of valuable time, and I doubt very much in any case lithe question will ever be raised at all in that form.
"In my view those who advocate flogging criminals are only scratching the surface of a much deeper problem. Statistics show that it's no deterrent, and there are a lot of social evils which explain the crime wave far more realistically than the abolition of corporal punishment.
"The grave housing problem. the many broken homes. the aftermath of the war—these are factors we often hear about. and undoubtedly they arc important contributory factors.
"I'd like to mention two more: I believe that the present system of calling up young men for military service has something to do with it, too.
"Between the time they leave school and are conscripted, these youths—especially those with a bad home background—often have too much leisure on their hands. They may land in dead-end jobs or find it hard to find a job at all.
"Then they may mix with callous types, also at a loose end, and end up by robbing and coshing people to satisfy some sort of youthful craving for excitement.
"I also believe that we have still a long way to go before prison treatment is all it should be. At present overcrowding and similar difficulties make it possible for a man to emerge from jail a snore ruthless criminal than when he went in."
Another aspect of the difficulty of ventilating "pent up adolescent energy" was touched on by a priest who is in constant daily contact with the problems of youth, notably in working-class districts. He is Fr. Edward Mitchinson. national chaplain of the Young Christian Workers.
His conviction that "nothing can take the place of firm moral guidance and training" is based on experience.
Fr. Mitchinson stressed, however. that the contributory causes usually vary from case to case : it is impracticable to attempt to analyse the problem in general terms.
"When boys are employed in dull, repetitive factory jobs," he said, "they need an outlet in the spare time. At that age it's seldom that they'll find it in the home. And if there's lack of parental control in the home, they tend to drift along on their own without the proper influences and example to shape their minds. It's easy to say this, but it's true for all that.
"What is mostly missing is leadership—apostolic leadership. Ordinary youth cluhs rarely provide it. though they do some good.
"Clubs help to till up so many hours of leisure a week. hut they're not educative enough. If a young man has no complete view of life, and there's no real leader to guide his
Continued on page 5 activities. he tends to find the wrong kind of leadership in a gang."
Deterrents like corporal punishment are regarded by Fr. Mitchinson as tackling the problem the wrong way round.
"That is not the way to remedy matters even from the short-term point of view," he said. "It's like locking the stable after the horse has bolted."
Another priest who knows London's East End from years of experience, and is also on the board of management of an approved school, declared that he saw nothing surprising in the present crime wave.
Canon Thomas Fitzgerald, parish priest of SS. Mary and Michael's, in Commercial Road, believes that it is only one sharp reflection of the dedining moral standards of the nation as a whole.
"Ws a normal culmination of the gradual break-down of Christian values," he said. "But the process has been going on for many, many years. The trouble is that man just can't get along without moral values. and there are none to take the place of those he has lost.
"1 am sure that the physical upheavals of the war years, the uprooting of whole families by evacuation and bombing helped to destroy social repute. Quite apart from the ethical angle, this question, of what the neighbours think, can be important. In a sense it's the beginning of social responsibility."
Canon Fitzgerald cannot abide thc easy solution of laying all the blame for crime on the parents of delinquents and young crirminals.
"Nothing could be more pathetic or absurd," he commented. "Those who offer that criticism forget that the parents were themselves once children of irreligious parents, and to make them hold the baby is unjust.
'The loss of religious and moral standards has been going on for generations. Let's be quite clear about that. And it will continue either until we have anarchy or some kind of ethical values are recovered.
'Deterrents won't make a scrap of difference to this fundamental fact."
The Catholic police officer immediately offered a professional answer to his particular side of the question.
"If we had more policemen on the beat." he said, "the number of crimes would fall. That's one practical deterrent that hasn't been tried yet. The police are the public's eyes and ears. If there were more of them, obviously the public would be better protected."
This police officer agreed, nevertheless. that more policemen will not stop criminals from attempting to commit brutal crimes.
"I am no wiser than anyone else about the many interlocked causes. But it seems to me that there are two things we rarely see mentioned in secular Press enquiries into the problem.
"The first is the damage done to the home by wives who go out to work. The second is the gressly materialistic way modern children are allowed to grow up, without any proper moral training or discipline.
"A little more disciplinee in the home by parents with a sense of right and wrong would obviate the need for corporal punishment later on in many cases."
The viewpoint of a Catholic mother with a fine record of social work was put to me by the Hon. Mrs. Henrietta Bower, past president of the Union of Catholic Mothers: "If I had had to bring up my family of eight children without religious principles," she said, "I'm certain it would have been an extremely difficult task to teach them the difference between right and wrong. It was difficult enough even with those principles.
"This is art age of materialism, and it's that which makes family training in ordinary standards of decency an almost superhuman business.
"You simply can't condemn all modern parents for not giving what they haven't got. Only those parents who have some religious faith and don't pass it on are really the guilty parents.
"But we see on all sides nowadays empty churches, rising divorce fig ures, broken homes—outward proof that the spiritual conception of life has been lost.
"Punishment is one way of coimtering crime but it doesn't cure the underlying problem.
"Ideas are the things which move meta women and children to good or evil. And children usually imitate the example of their elders. It's here that parental control certainly does come in.
"If children are allowed to develop their own ideas without supervision, or to imitate bad ideas, the rot will soon set in."
Mrs. Bower is also quite sure that too many bloodthirsty films and crime comics are a direct source of wrong ideas which "will take their toll when the children are older."
The Rector of a large Liverpool parish, Fr. Henry Waterhouse. S.J., of the Church of St. Francis Xavier. said:
"Quite plainly the degradation of family life is one of the main contributory causes and it's interesting to notice that social reformers who mean business realise that fact.
"Once you undermine the family you introduce into society something which may take a long time to make itself drastically felt.
"I am sure what must be avoided is the drafting of new long-term legislation dealing with the problem in the heat of the moment. We shall have to tackle it slowly and with great thought.
"Corporal punishment may be a good thing in some ways, but if we imagine that it will cure the mentality of young criminals we are very far wrong indeed," Regarding the common charge that Catholics form an unduly high proportion of young criminals convicted for violence, Fr. Waterhouse said: "Real proof is necessary to justify that charge. Even if it were substantiated, it can't be explained as a matter of simple cause and effect.
"It is well known that many Catholics belong to the poorer classes, and that many of them arc concentrated in the slums of large cities which are the breeding ground of crime. You can't entirely blame the home, the school, the parents or the youths themselves."
A Catholic woman magistrate, Mrs. Ruth Morrah, who sits on the bench of the Juvenile Court at Chelsea, made two observations, "I do think," she said, "that the present crimes arc being committed by young men who were caught up as children in the evacuation and upheaval of the war years. They are the same youngsters who not long ago were appearing in the juvenile courts.
"I also think that corporal punishment, far from improving matters, could easily make them worse. Meeting violence with violence will not help us in the least. It might even be disastrous, because violence breeds resentment.