POPE John Paul's address in Drogheda is undoubtedly the decade's most powerful pronouncement on the situation ill Northern Ireland. It offers a Ii ost incisive analysis of this '5 hole complex of interlocking problems. Did it, how eyer, have ally deep or lasting impact'? Did it produce any permanent effect'?
In the book. "The Pope from Poland; an assessment" John Whale, commenting at some length on the Pope's Irish visit, offers a consistently es en carpingly, negative vIew. seeming oddly unhappy when he had to concede any even slightly positive aspect either to the ‘isit as a whole or to the Drogheda .iddress, lie speaks ol he failure of the papal plea-. and concludes: "The Catholic Church had fired its biggest gun and the Irish battlefield had not fallen silent."
A distant vies,. of Ireland — or of the Pope -is not necessarily the detached view or the unprejudiced one. A more nuanoed judgement on the impact of the Drogheda address must be .atempted.
The text must not he read Ill isolation from the I Oly Iather's consistent teaching on the dignity and the rights of man and on justice us the condition ofpeace. Nor must it he detached from the specific Irish context in which it
Pope John Paul was not giving an academic discourse on
iolence in general. He was treating violence in the concrete Irish context of today. He was not itd%allcing a theory of polities as the wayof peaceful change. as I he "peaceful political way to justice": he was speaking direinly and concretely "to all who bear political responsibility for the affairs of Ireland: He was not. at Drogheda speaking about ecumenism in general "he was making an appeal directly as Pope to Irish Protestants, a section of whom are conditioned into seeing him as "anti-elitist" and "MUM of Sin.
But the question remains: Did the address change anyone 11r change anything? Only those w ith a very simplistic view of the realities of the Northern Ireland conflict would ever have supposed that the • Pope's visit or address could instantly "make the Irish battlefield fall silent." The Pope's words. however, did have an impact on minds and conscience of some of those engaged in violence.
\Vell-informed observers believe that the firmness and authontiveness of the Pope's condemnation of violence, combined with his manifest acid courageous concern for justice and human rights caused considerable heartsearching among some activists at the time and have continued to disurh their conscience since then. There almost certainly were defections from the ranks of :lens ists as a direct result.
'file reaction of' some of the leadetshir ‘% ;is It) resort to more openly anti clerical and antichurch !anvil:TX and more extremist and doelinaire revolutionary policies. This increased the doubts of members more traditional in outlook and less ideological motiVated. It heightened disagreement and tension about both policy and about tactics within the milli= republican ranks.
Integral to Pope John Paul's appeal for peace is his stress on justice as the foundation of peace, this in turn implies the doctrine that politics, not violence is the effective way to just change in society, in short that the polities of justice are the authentic alternative and answer to violence.
Pope John Paul's message for those in political authority was unambiguous and uncompromising. He told them not to cause or condone or tolerate conditions which give excuse or pretext to
of violence. "Those who resort`to violence always claim that only violence brings about change. The:y calim that political action can not achieve justice. You politicians must prove them to be wrong. You must show that there is a peaceful, political way to justice you must show that peace achieves the works of lustice and siolence does not: It would he a selective and one-sided use of the Pope's message which would isolate only.
his condemnation of violence and pass over in silence his admonition to politicians.
Pope John Paul spoke also "to all the people in position of leadership to all who can influence public opinion to all members of political parties and to all who support them." His appeal was basically for respect for the rights of' communities to express and peacefully to pursue different political objectives and aspirations. He said: "never think you are betraying your own community by seeking to understand and accept those of a different tradition. You will serve your own tradition best, by working for reconciliation with the others. Each of the historical .commollifies in Ireland can only harm itself by seeking to harm the other." Earlier in his address the Pope had reaffirmed a message which he proclaimed in Mexico and Poland that every community — ethnic, historical. cultural or religious — has rights that must be respected.
It is in this eoiitct that Pope
John Paul's direct appeal to Protestants take on its fullforce. Many Protestants were listening. Indeed there were very levy people in the whole of Ireland Catholic or Protestant whodid not stay glued td their television set during the whole period of the Pope's visit. .
A strong impact Yvas made on large numbers of Protestants by the Holy Father's words: "I came to Drogheda today on a great mission of peace and reconciliation, I come as a pilgrim of peace. Christ's peace to Catholic and Protestant. My
ito sslrrshe Pi is Xteelsi tcaen tanthdinkkwteh.alMithiye
Pope is an enemy: a danger or a threat. My desire is — that instead Protestants would see in me a friend and a brother in
"Illisistcegri:tabie that many. commentators have done less than justI cc to the malls-sided character of the Pope's Drogheda speech . The post-papal-visitdepression" of which many have spoken can sometimes he traced to naive expectation. The haiirt, il,eis,s dtolevterrnsisitinatat tiohen evoif he t path of murder and destructions is indeed dispiriting and violent campaign is in itself an abomination.
Nevertheless, the total spiritual impact of the Pope's visit to Ireland and the immediate impact of the Drogheda address even on the activists. leave positive grounds for new hope and provide a firm base for renewed efforts for peace and reconciliation and for the politics of justice.
Hardly less dispiriting,, however. is their inertia of political authorities and their failure to respond to the Pope's challenge to demonstrate that "political action can achieve Justice that there is a peaceful political way to justice."
The present British government 'and the Northern Ireland office undoubtedly' intend lo be and undoubtless believe they are being impartial between Northern Ireland's two historical communities. But there are many in the Catholic community who see these policies differently. To many of' them these policies seem in practice to combine a helpless capitulation before loy'afist political immobilism, on the one hand and on the other a studied refusal of all the reasoned political demands of the accredited spokesmen of the minority community.
This does not foster confidence in politics as the "peaceful political way to justice." It does not facilitate the work of the political leaders of the minority Community who. reflecting their convictions of the vast majority in that community totally renounce violence.
Sadly, it is not the activists alone who are failing to respond to the Pope's plea. Perhaps the true final assessment of the Drogheda speech lies in Chesterton's words about Christianity, that "it has not been tried and tailed; It has not yet been tried."
Meanwhile, those who long for peace in Ireland will, in the Pope's own words, "not lose trust that (his) visit may be fruitful that (his) voice may be listened to." They will take new heart from the fact that history recrods "that at a difficult moment in the experience of the people of Ireland the bishop of Rome set foot in (our) land, that he was with (us) and prayed with (us) for peace and reconciliation for the victory of justice and love over hatred and violence."