FOR A long time. Catholics in Britain — especially, perhaps. those of Irish birth or descent — have been distressed or puzzled by the frequent suggestions in some sections of the Press .that Catholic bishops and parish clergy have adopted an equivocal attitude towards the terrorist tactics of the Provisional IRA and others who are murdered for political ends. Even more dismaying, probably. is the tacit assumption that this is so, which has been detectable among so many of their non-Catholic friends and acquaintances.
It is not astonishing that there has been confusion. It was almost inevitable at the start of the present Northern Ireland troubles — a sickeningly-large number of years ago — by the mere fact that it was possible and, for the media, damagingly convenient, to use the labels "Catholic" and "Protestant" to distinguish the two main opposing views about Northern Ireland's future.
It was, and still is. the democratic right of any United Kingdom citizen to support the view that the North should be united with the Irish Republic, or, alternatively. that it should in no circumstances be separated from the United Kingdom.
The fact that most North of Ireland Protestants favour the second alternative and most Catholics the first does not make this a religious issue. It is a political issue. It does not become a religious issue even when clergy of whatever church take, or appear to take, one side or another in the dispute. The clergy, including Mr Paisley, have the same right to hold particular political opinions as any other citizen. But those who support any view of what should be done abour Northern Ireland. including clergymen, have no right, moral, legal, or political, to advocate murder and terrorism in its support. It is unjust, and, indeed, rather silly, to assume that they advocate any such licence, even though they may share some of the political aims asserted by men of violence.
Just the same, the outspoken condemnation by Catholic bishops and other clergy of recent killings and bombings is very welcome. Cardinal 0 Fiaich could hardly have been more detailed and specific in the catalogue of terrorist acts that he declared to be mortal sins. He may also have cleared up some lingering doubts when he included in it "substantial" cooperation with the terrorist organisations. The Irish chaplains working in Britain are also to be commended for deploring the Fact that acts of violence are sometimes misrepresented as being carried out in the name of the people of' Ireland. Nearly 1,500 Catholics of Strabane made it clear enough that they supported their parish priest in his detestation of IRA tactics, and in doing so matched his Christian courage.