By Richard Dowden
CARDINAL HUME is much loved because he is one of our few public figures who does not appear to act as a politician. Yet no one in public life can avoid the political fences, and last week Cardinal Hume took on a rather tricky one.
At the annual general meeting of the Catholic Institute for International Relations he said that critics complained that the institute only criticised Right-wing governments and never Leftwing ones, and that CIIR's solutions were always radical.
He blurred_ the edge of the criticisms by speaking as "we in CIIR" — he is its president — and explaining that these criticisms made him uncomfortable. But then he ended by saying: "If I have made one or two points of criticism it is only because I wish to lend my support to the work which you do and to make certain that you can have the full support of the Catholic community."
The skilfully and courageously made remarks have caused some alarm within CUR, which believed it had the full support of the Cardinal.
CI1R grew out of the Sword of the Spirit, an outgoing renewal organisation and precursor of the ecumenical movement, which was founded in 1940 by Cardinal Hinsley. It changed its name in 1965 and now sends volunteers overseas as part of the British volunteer programme, as well as carrying out an extensive education programme in this country.
Through talks, conferences and background papers CIIR has become one of the best known development education bodies in the country. "Comment," the succinct, indepth, analysis which CIIR puts out on current political and economic matters affecting poor countries, is also widely acclaimed.
More important, in the short term at least, have been contacts throughout Latin America, Southern Africa and now South-East Asia, who have fed CIIR information which hasn't reached the international media. Often the contact helps with the analysis of what is going on in a country. The classic case was Bishop Donal Lamont in Rhodesia. CIIR became what was virtually his long-distance Press officer and mouthpiece in Britain until the Bishop was exiled.
Sometimes these contacts have provided CIIR with a Press release for all the Fleet Street news desks, sometimes a word in the right place in Whitehall.
Meanwhile, at home, CIIR has gathered a number of top journalists and academics who assist in producing the professional publications.
Yet Cardinal Hume has had a steady stream of complaints about CUR from Catholics who believe that the main political commitment of Catholicism is to fight Communism.
In particular, CIIR's publication of the reports of atrocities committed by Rhodesian security forces and documented by the Rhodesian Justice and Peace Commission, have stirred Right-wing MPs into action.
They are not new visitors to Archbishop's House. Cardinal Heenan also received their complaints. But Cardinal Heenan was a skilful politician, and while he maintained a strongly militant centrist position in his own politics, he told CIIR that it was a useful organisation because it said things which needed saying but which could not be said with the full weight of the Catholic community.
Cardinal Hume has a different approach to politics. He consults widely, in search of trusted advisers but does not make up his mind easily. He reacts impulsively to particular situations with sudden and sometimes unexpected clarity and firmness. He does not appear to accept that Left and Right are irreconcilable.
Last week's dramatic support for Pax Christi's appeal for an inquiry into police brutality in Northern Ireland, his call for a ban on arms sales to El Salvador last October, and his appeal during the fireman's strike (his one badly researched statement) have all drawn criticism from the Right Wing.
His response has been to try to clarify his own position. On March 4 this year, addressing the inaugural meeting of the Christians for Social Justice, he spoke of the danger of selecting causes and being concerned with apartheid in South Africa while ignoring what was going on in Cambodia and of being preoccupied with military regimes of South America and ignoring the voice of Solihenitsyn.
He repeated this theme last Monday night, virtually insisting that CIIR open a desk on Left-wing regimes. To do this would alter the whole perspective of CIIR, which tends to examine the relationship between First World and Third World, particularly analysing the British connection which Catholics in this country can act upon. Mildred Nevile, general secretary of CI1R, points out that it would take £10,000 a year and a new staff member to build up reliable contacts and exper tise in this new area, and not even this would guarantee results. It might also duplicate what was being done at the Centre for Religion and Communism at Keston College.
But it is Cardinal Humes suggestion that CIIR should enjoy the full support of the Catholic community which may • have more serious long-term implications. CIIR has ridden the wave of • the new Catholic concern for social and political justice. Its success, however, has not been entirely due to its Catholic title.
In fact the Catholic support in this country, if support can be judged by subscriptions, is not growing. It has remained static over the past four years, dropping as a percentage of CIIR's total income from a half to less than a fifth.
Lewis Donnelly, of the Volunteer Advisory Group, said at the annual meeting that the label "Catholic" in the volunteer programme might repel as many people as it attracted, and suggested that the next executive might change the name. CIIR's strength lies not in the fact that it is a large membership organisation speaking for the Catholic Church in this country. It lies in
its expertise and professionalism.
Some Catholics even feel that CIIR has become too elitist and is too concerned about its own public political reputation, but with so many of the Catholic organisations suffering declining numbers and having nothing to say which is not being said better elsewhere, CIIR's reliance on expertise and Christian commitment rather than the Catholic title, is providing quite a challenge.
CIIR still sees its prime mission-field in the Catholic community in this country, but it is unlikely that even with pressure from Cardinal Hume it will alter its stance • to accommodate the broad spectrum of political views held by British Catholics.