Lieutenant L. Gooch, RN, is to be thanked for presenting his views about the militarycivilian status of chaplains fairly if firmly (May 2). I for one welcome this and hope that dialogue can continue.
There are a few subsidiary points which should be clarified. The proposal about civilian status is intended for all relevant countries, not just the United Kingdom. It does not automatically mean that Bishops would be asked to pay instead of governments.
Though the proposal does not specify, it would surely be possible and quite normal for worshipping communities of servicemen and women to pay for their own churches, and priests just as their civilian counterparts do. It is arguable that this is an aspect of mature lay responsibility and a fairer system than that of casting the burden on the taxpayer at large.
But the main thrust of thp, proposal was directed to making us think out again the high priority given by Christians to military solutions to conflict situations and to protect the
Christian community from over-identification with some particular form of government.
At the moment we Catholics in the United Kingdom provide 70 or so priests to work as Service chaplains. This priority in manpower might be assessed in the light of the pastoral needs for other special groups. Merchant seamen, migrant workers,. West Indians, students at specialised colleges and even organisations like Amnesty and the National Council for Civil Liberties might also make legitimate demands in due proportion for pastoral care and advice.
The issue of overidentification does not only affect military chaplains. We all identify with the group with which we work. But official
status must make a detached view even more difficult.
Professor Zahn's book "Chaplains in the RAF" shows beyond reasonable doubt that it does.
Only a few weeks ago, on the "Midweek" television programme, a senior chaplain said he could not envisage a conflict between official policy and a chaplain's conscience. Nagasaki? Dresden? Deep interrogation? Black propaganda? Area bombing? The use of nuclear weapons? The sudden imprisonment without trial of nearly 400 people from one minority group in a conflict situation?
Issues are not settled in letters to papers but at least the proposal should not be seen as a threat. A strong supporter for it was an elderly German priest who had served on the Russian front as a priest medical orderly and would not have wished, from a pastoral viewpoint, for a different status.
Had the Portuguese and American chaplains been in similar positions in Mozambique and Vietnam, perhaps those sad stories might have ended earlier and in different ways.
In short, our proposal may not be all nonsense and might well contain some discussable ideas.
Mgr. Bruce Kent Pax Christi International Catholic Movement for Peace, Blackfriars Hall, Southampton Road, NW5.
One could reasonably gather from reading your issue of May 2 that it does not matter much whether we celebrate May as the month of Mary or the month of Marx, as long as we are "basically moral," like Tony Benn's Socialism!
For all Benn's silver-tongued rhetoric and brainless good intentions, there is no mistaking the true meaning of his "progressive sharing of power" — a servile proletariat sotted by a debauched currency, and dragooned by an evermultiplying bureaucracy. With the present elimination of the middle classes through punitive taxation and the suppression of the schools in which their cherished ideals are fostered, this brave new world of his has become an imminent reality.
It will bear about as much resemblance to a Christian society as a fifth-century Saxon raiding party encamped in the ruins of Roman London.
Have mercy on England thy dowry!
J. L. Norden 76 The Knoll,