to a meeting organised by the Sisters of Sion in London on April 4. The speaker was Professor Gordon C. Zahn, Professor of Sociology at an American university, the author of "German Catholics and Hitler's Wars".
Ignore racial questions but' at the peril of your soul
LOOK at the public notice
boards posted in the Notting Hill Gate and other areas of London. Notices of rooms or flats to let — with the sometimes curt notice, "No Asiatics or Africans", or at other times the more polite "Sorry. Europeans only" which says precisely the same thing.
It is important that you people here in Britain read the tragedy of Selma, Alabama, in the context of what appears to be a fatal intention to create the same kind of problem for yourselves.
In one sense, your situation is even worse: the strains and tensions you are feeling now are associated with the process of creating the same kind of racial ghettoes, the breaking down of which is causing so much sorrow in my country today. And unless something is done to halt this process, you can look forward to a repetition of all the unpleasantness at some time in the future when the barriers being constructed today no longer can be maintained.
We do live in a divided world, a world split along racial, religious, and nationality lines. And these divisions are repeated in our separate couhtries and even in our separate cities within those countries.
Unless and until we can solve them at their more restricted and immediately manageable levels, we can never hope to solve them on a world-wide scale. And if we fail to solve them there, we shall perish.
This is why I am so disturbed by the open discrimination publicly proclaimed on the notice hoards.
All religious communities have a responsibility to work for a solution of the racial problem; and I think we must confess that, till now at least, these responsibilities have not been fully met.
Again, in my country, there has been a great improvement in recent years. Perhaps the most significant development of all was the 1963 Chicago Conference on Race and Religion—the first instance in which official spokesmen for our three major religious groupings (Catholic, Protestant and Jew) jointly shared and sponsored a common effort to solve a pressing social problem.
From this meeting came "An Appeal to the Conscience of the American People," which included the following remarkable paragraph: Our primary concern is for the laws of God. We Americans of all religiour faiths have been slow to recognise that racial discriminations and segregation are an insult to God, the giver of human dignity and human rights.
Even worse, we all have participated in perpetuating racial discrimination and segregation in civil, political, industrial. social and private life. And worse still, in our houses of worship, our religious schools, hospitals, welfare institutions and fraternal organisations we have often failed our own religious commitments.
With few exceptions we have evaded the mandates and rejected the promises of the faiths we represent.
But the honest recognition, however belated, of a moral responsibility is not to he confused with the fulfilment of that responsibility. Our record in America is still quite spotty.
In Alabama we read of six Catholic nuns leading one of the civil rights marches. In Los Angeles .priests are driven into exile because they dare to speak out for racial justice when a Cardinal chooses to ignore the injustices existing in his archdiocese.
The scandal of Los Angeles (and some other dioceses, jike Philadelphia for instance) offers tragic proof that we no longer need look toward the oppressed nations of Eastern Europe to find "the Church of Silence".
It exists in America; it exists here in Britain. The only difference—and it is an important one —is that the "silence" behind the Iron Curtain is imposed from without; the silence of some of our leading churchmen of the West, as far as the facial problem is concerned, is voluntary, a silence born of an exaggerated prudence at best or of indifference and disinterest at its worst.
If this sounds like a harsh judgment—and it is—it is best that it be stated now by someone in the Church rather than later by some critic on the outside.
For the past couple of years now, opinion all over the world has been stirred by the Rolf Hochhuth play, The Representative, the play in which Pope Pius XII is taken to task for his failure (or refusal) to voice public protest against the Nazi programme for the extermination of Europe's Jews.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the play itself—and would hold it possesses both—it bears directly upon the point I am trying to make here: the culpability of silence in a situation which violates justice and obliterates charity. As long as any segment of the Christian Church, Catholic or Protestant, American or European stands open to the charge of not actively engaging itself in the efforts to overcome the evils of race prejudice and discrimination wherever they may be evident, we must look forward to the day when that same severe judgment of moral failure will be directed against us.
Nor is this a matter of Christian responsibility alone. The survivors of "the holocaust Kingdom" have a leading part to play as well in recognising and approving any manifestation of the evil doctrine which consumed so many millions less fortunate than they.
To say there is failure here is to state a commonplace, One of the four Chicago clergymen honoured for their efforts to bring about a peaceful acceptance of the first Negro family, to move into one of our suburbs was a rabbi--and he was later to speak of his great shame at hearing so many Jews in his community express the same opinions (against the negroes) that have so often been directed against their own.
Philadelphia, Srnethwick, even the polite warnings on the notice hoards in Notting Hill are all located on the same dreadful path that leads to Auschwitz. Let us never forget that.
I would suggest that we all have a personal obligation to give evidence of our clear disapproval of discriminations practised by those about us—the "coffee table ethnic joke"; the businessman who proclaims his intent to continue discriminatory hiring policies; the political candidate who sets out to exploit, however devious his manner, the racist sentiments of an electorate.
Perhaps we might dislike to be in the position of openly protesting against these things—but the very least we can do is to counter them to the best of our ability— by not laughing at such jibes, by matching each such statement with a favourable reference to the group being derided.
The next range of obligations brings us into a far more controversial area. I believe that each of us is called upon to furnish some measure of support to the so-called "direct action" movements and programmes which seek to correct and eliminate the pattern of injustice that do obtain in our society.
Let roe make this point as clearly and emphatically as possible because I feel it has an immediate bearing upon the situation in this country as well: any diocese that does not have an active, lay-directed Catholic organisation working for the elimination of race prejudice and discrimination with or without the approval of the Bishop is a diocese in which Catholics are not meeting their individual responsibilities and, even worse, a diocese in which the Church itself is not meeting its responsi
bilities to the general community and to the whole of mankind.
kis an awful responsibility we bear. Whether it he the negro who thirsts after justice and requires the healing balm of a charitable word—or the incinerated victim of Auschwitz or Hiroshima — or the peasant father with his napalm-scarred child in Vietnam—each of these has every right to look to us, just as a wounded traveller once looked to the passive Samaritan, and asks: "Who, if not you?"
As we enter upon what has already been described by some as "the age of the layman", it is for each of us to ponder that question deeply in the privacy of his own mind and heart.
It is a question that none of us—Jew or Christian, Protestant or Catholic, layman, priest or Prince of the Church—can ignore, save at the peril of his soul,