Sir, Rural issues refuse to go away. Think of BSE, Foot and Mouth Disease, the countryside marches, the drastic fall in the price of milk and the Common Agricultural Policy.
Many think of the Catholic Church as mainly an urban phenomenon. It is true that most Catholic churches are in towns. But it is also true that most of each Catholic diocese is rural.
Take Clifton diocese, which includes Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, then subtract Bristol, Gloucester and Swindon. A very large and very rural area remains with Catholics thinly spread. You may wonder what the Bishop of Clifton is doing. Recently he appointed a farming Catholic as his agricultural adviser, and followed up the appointment with a harvest pastoral letter. Anglicans are used to such appointments; not so Catholics. God spare us from more rural troubles, but at least the bishop has to hand an adviser when the next crisis comes.
Lack of population and shortage of clergy mean that rural parishes are large and bishops have difficult decisions to make. How are such decisions made? Do bishops pool their solutions when discussing how each has met the rural needs of his diocese? Do Catholic rural advisers meet nationally or regionally? Two clergy represent the Catholic Church on the ecumenical Churches' Rural Group at the National Agricultural Centre. Twice a year, the group offers a short course on rural history. It is open to all the churches, but how many Catholic know of it?
Media concentration on foxhunting did little for the countryside demonstration in London last month, obscuring vital issues such as rural shops, transport, post offices, pubs and schools. Lose these and the community loses it heart. Rural housing is affordable only for those seeking a second home and young people are having to move to find affordable accommodation. If a village loses its young, it loses its memory. A job lost here, another there, as happens in the countryside, makes no headline as would a pit or factory closure, yet some 60,000 rural jobs have disappeared in the last three years.
In the crazy world of agricultural economics, it is cheaper to ship frozen lamb from the other side of the globe than to produce it here. If we lose rural jobs, what remains?
It is now some years since the Catholic bishops were congrat ulated on their production of The Common Good. Perhaps it is time for a new generation of bishops to produce a similar document, but on rural matters.
If the Church has nothing to say on contentiousisspes like genetic modification, then nobody else has. The bishops can speak as the voice of the only organisation, apart from Brussels, whose sway extends across the whole of the European Community and beyond.
As an appendix, the study could share the solutions that various dioceses have found to provide a continuing ministry in the countryside.
Yours faithfully, ROBERT MILLER Dulverton, Somerset