THE TABLET 21/28 April 1984
Letters A question for disarmament
Sir: Cecilia Hatt in Viewpoint asks a question and I hasten to answer. The point I made at the London meeting on 20 March and at other times as well was quite a simple one.
If Catholics and others concerned for peace do not agree with the policies of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, then why do they not instead become active members of one of the many organisations with more general aims?
From the Freeze Coalition to the Campaign against the Arms Trade, from Pax Christi to the United Nations Association, such movements exist in quite large numbers and they ought to have solid Catholic support. That they do not is simply a matter of observation.
I am still almost the only British priest with concern for the entirely non-controversial World Conference of Religions for Peace. It is good news that Cecilia Hatt and I can at least agree on the excellence of the American bishops’ pastoral letter, so well prepared and presented.
If we were to apply its conclusions to government policy here, we would very soon be in collision with government policy. It calls for a halt on further nuclear weapons deployment, an end to nuclear war-fighting doctrines, and opposes deterrent policies resting on a willingness to target cities.
Julian Critchley MP, by no means a enthusiast for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, has recently agreed that our present policies in this area can be summed up as “population extermination”
Of course, we can all do things sometimes, which others will judge to be silly, extreme or over-judgmental, though Catholic Peace Action must answer for itself.
I can only speak for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which has clearly made mistakes in its time. But no one ought to expect perfection from an organisation before getting involved. Or even afterwards, as the failings of the Vatican Bank may serve to remind us….
(Mgr) Bruce Kent
General Secretary Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
11 Goodwin Street
28 April 1984
Cecilia Hatt has given the wrong impression of Catholic Peace Action and also reveals a lack of understanding of Christian civil disobedience (Viewpoint, 7 April). Her charge against CPA of “self- righteousness” and “uncharitable language” is based on two quotes. The first quote does not support her in the least and the second is not only taken out of context but is a misquote.
To mention three examples: After our second act of civil disobedience on 11 October 1983, CPA supporters and many of the police exchanged handshakes of peace. Our twice-monthly leafleting of the Ministry of Defence workers now elicits friendly greetings, smiles, written responses and often a civil dialogue or two. And when the magistrate sentenced two of us to prison over the Christmas period last year, we did not feel any ill-will toward him; indeed, he acted with more patience and understanding during this, our second trial, than he did during our first one.
Mrs Hatt goes on to take out of context and misquote a statement of ours which explained our Ash Wednesday act of civil disobedience. The full quote, in the proper context, is: “Today we pray for the conversion of this nation and for all those involved with nuclear war preparations. We pray in the place where planning for genocide continues day after day, the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall. In sorrow and love, we bring a message of repentance to the Ministry of Defence workers and through them the government and nation: ‘Repent; in the name of God and life stop preparing for death and destruction.’ “
As the actual sentence reads, we did not single out the Ministry of Defence workers as the only ones in need of repentance. During the action, the four members of Catholic Peace Action who wrote on the pillars the word “Repent” also daubed their own foreheads, along with the 40 people praying with us. Our statement further read: “We sin by omission if we fail to do what we can to stop this nuclear madness.” Sins of omission and commission cover, I presume, everyone, including ourselves.
Mrs Hatt seems to think that the word “genocide” cannot correctly be applied to nuclear weapons or nuclear war preparations. She and others can believe what they like, but perhaps an even more appropriate word is “omnicide”. What other consequences would follow the use of nuclear weapons? How else could their use be described?
Let us not delude ourselves. Nuclear weapons are here to be used. During the last elections, Mrs Thatcher was quite clear that she would, under certain circum- stances, “Of course” push the button. So thousands of military personnel and many civil servants are involved in maintaining a certain level of readiness so that the button can be pushed (even if they personally do not have the intention to use nuclear weapons themselves). And these people, of course, are not acting alone — they do their job as servants of the people; the Government sincerely threatens to use nuclear weapons in our name.
Even if every person in this country agreed with such a position it would not, in our opinion, make it right. One of our responses to this situation is non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. We would sin by omission if we did not say “no” as clearly and as powerfully as we could. And we believe that there is nothing more powerful than actions based on love and non-violence. On a point of agreement with Mrs Hatt, I also “take heart” from the American bishops’ pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace. In the section “The Value of Non-violence”, they mention Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, as having a “profound impact on the life of the Church in the United States”. It may not be well known, but Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, engaged in civil disobedience over many issues. It was during the fifties that she went to jail for resistance to nuclear “defence” preparations.
My heart was most taken, however, when one of the principal authors of the pastoral letter, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, met two members of Catholic Peace Action and thanked them for what we were doing and wished that he could do it also. He was very supportive. We are encouraged also by the statements and actions of Bishop Matthiesen of Amarillo and Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle. These bishops are active in a campaign to stop the shipment by rail of Trident warheads from Amarillo, where they are assembled, to Seattle, home of the Trident submarine.
In a recent joint statement they encouraged people to “monitor and offer non-violent resistance to each successive violation of our pastoral letter. Our stand in the pastoral letter is that no further deployment of nuclear weapons can possibly be justified. Every missile and nuclear weapons shipment is both a significant step toward a first-strike holocaust and a violation of the moral stand we have taken. What we can all do along the tracks when these shipments come through is stand in prayerful witness to the alternative power of divine love and non-violent action. “
Non-violent civil disobedience may be “unintelligent” to Mrs Hatt, but it has a long Christian tradition and a growing number of Christian practitioners, both in this country and in the United States.
Catholic Peace Action
7 Putney Bridge Road