From a Special Correspondent ' An International Catholic Conference on Human Rights—the latest in a series of deliberations on this matter, by gatherings of men of all beliefs and none, all over the world—has recently ended at S an Sebastian, in Spain.
It is made all the more topical by the fact that the United Nations Assembly itself is debating the U.N.O. Declaration and Draft Covenant of Human Rights in Paris this past week.
Strangely enough, there had not as yet been a statement on the question from an international Catholic body of standing. Yeoman work had been done by the American Catholics of N.C.W.C., and at the Pax Romana Conference at St. Edmund's College, Ware, earlier this summer.
The Sword of the Spirit's draft amendments to the U.N.O. documents (to bring-in the name of God as the Author of all rights, and to stress clearly the rights of the family and of property) had been gathering weight among the Catholic organisations of this country.
All these texts were on the table at San Sebastian. What gave the Spanish Conference its unique importance was, therefore, that it was composed of people (clerical and lay) front many countries chosen by personal invitation, and that they had at their disposal the results to date of others' work on the matter in hand. The text they have produced is accordingly a thoroughly representative Catholic document.
The Papal Nuncio to Spain presided at the opening session, with the Bishop of Vitoria on one side of him, and on the other the Bishop of Calahora (whose pastoral letter of 1941 on the spiritual issues at stake in the war was dropped by the thousand over Germany by the R.A.F.).
The conference was sponsored by the body set up last year after the first San Sebastian Conversaciones, which had been attended from this country by Mr. Douglas Woodruff. This time the three British present were Mr. Michael Derrick (of The Tablet), Fr. Herbert Keldany and Mr. A. C. F. Betties.
Hospitality for the whole conference of some 70 people was provided in the beautiful House of Studies maintained by the nuns halfway up the Monte Ulio behind the town, with its magnificent view over the bay and the Spanish Pyrenees.
In so far as all were Catholics. the discussions in the Town Hall enjoyed a deep unity on fundamentals. Spanish texts of the Encyclicals were at hand for checking points of detail as to what the Popes had said.
But in so far as each country is mostly concerned with how particular problems strike its own people at the moment, there was intense and at times warm debate.
The Spaniards and Latin-Americans wanted a forthright declaration of basic principles, without which no rights could properly he defended at all.
But the French and British and others, living as they do in mixed religious climates, and realising that in their countries they will need the support of non-Catholics to build a public opinion behind the basic human rights, wanted a crisp statement of man's rights against the State, such as could he subscribed to in practice by people who would not. perhaps, agree with the Catholic philosophical and religious principles.
In the end the final text embodied everybody's desires. It consists of a lengthy preamble, which defines
and insists on the conception of the human person. and a systematic analysis of rights and duties: of the individual, the family, free associations, the nation, and of all these natural groups in the international community, together with the rights of the Church. This will now go to Rome before publication, for the approval of the Pope.
One carries away the memory of highlights: the sumptuous hospitality of the Spanish hosts; • the great French jurist. Dr. de La Pradello, explaining to the first interim plenary session how his Commission of the Conference had managed to get so much drafting done, in virtue of its individual learning and his own debonair dictatorship as chairman. Then there were the late-night arguments round the supper tables, as to why some of the visitors had not supported Franco in 1936-9, and why Spain had not supported the Allies during the war; the remarkable frankness with which Catholics, united in the Faith, can discuss their national differences and still emerge greater friends than before.