THANKS to Hitler, Mussolini and others on the Continent who like to keep the Church under their thumbs, London was the venue last week-end for the first International' Catholic Press Conference to be held in Europe since the outbreak of war.
No one would claim that it was a fully representative gathering. Hitler, again, has seen to that. The great Catholic journalist who between the wars, did most for the international work of the Catholic press was absent. Instead of the conference being organised and led by his devoted care, the proceedings opened with a Moving address by his private secretary, who spoke of his achievements in a simple panegyric to the memory of a man . who at length succumbed to the rigours of a German concentration camp on the first Sunday in Lent of the present year. But Dr. Hoeben, we may be confident, was only physically absent from a gathering inspired by himself and organised with the hope of carrying on his ideals, no matter what the dictators may say or do. Other figures, likewise famous in contemporary Catholic journalism, were absent because Hitler had prevented them from carrying on their work. ' i Nor was the conference a fully professional affair. Those from the Continent who attended it are not in this country in their qualification as journalists, but in their qualification as Catholics and patriots, engages in one way or another in the job of making a full and free Catholic life in Europe possible once again.
It was not surprising under -these circumstances that special attention during the conference was paid to one point, the point, namely, that one absolutely indispensable condition of truly Catholic journalism in the days to come would be independence of all States and Governments in matters that concern the religious and moral role of Christian journalism.
It is conceivable that in some European countries to-day an international Catholic press conference of a kind could be organised. What is inconceivable, however, is that Catholic journalists from all countries should be allowed in those countries to rise and say exactly what they pleased without even the thought in their minds of what Dictator A or General 8 might say. Yet this was the condition which obtained last week.end in the very heart of an island-fortress fighting for survival. It is fitting, therefore, that tribute to the freedom and confidence of our own land where such things are possible should be paid.
Catholic Contacts Nor will those who were present at all the sessions of the conference deny that sound and solid work was achieved, in spite of the informality of the occasion.
Though it may be the least spectacular achievement, we would give first place to the simple matter of creating the beginnings of a lasting personal contact between Catholic journalists and writers of all countries. There can be no question of denying the divergences of view that must exist from national, social and political angles as between such Catholic journalists. Indeed the Church is actually proud of the fact that within her one united fold there can be so many diversities of tastes, views, ideals. Her oneness is not the oneness that excludes differences and reduces everything to dull and lifeless uniformity:, it is the oneness of differences, the oneness that unites under a common spiritual ideal every variety that reflects the richness of God's infinitely fertile creation.
None the less, this very quality must give rise to its own special temptation, the temptation to attach even more importance to the differences than to the unity. We know only too well the scandal that can be given and the harm that can be done through national, social and political divisions as among Catholics. And unfortunately the quickest and simplest remedy is not always to hand. It is that Catholics should meet and talk and make friends under the auspices of a common Catholic enterprise. Under these circumstances, both the common faith and the common humanity, informed by that faith, quickly reduces the differences to their right proportions and brings out the overwhelming strength of the common bond, more especially in face of a secularist world.
We hope with all our hearts that contacts begun at a conference like this one will be persevered with, and while each person must be free to strive for the measures which he believes to be most likely to promote the good of Church, world and country. let no one introduce that tone of acerbity and personal spite which too often has made a mockery in practice of the great tribute once paid: " How these Christians love one another!"
More concrete issues raised at the conference concerned the better organisation of international Catholic journalism after the war.
The mere spectacle of representatives of so many nations joined together at the conference, as well as the breadth and depth of the topics that were instinctively raised, made one realise the tremendous potential power of Catholic action in the world today. There can be no question but that the Catholic press must be one of the strongest agents of that power, both for the raising of the Catholic consciousness among the faithful and for the fight against attacks from without.
To carry out this mission effectively, however, it needs to be properly organised. It must create a rapid and complete news service of its own, independent of tainted outside sources. It must provide the means of quick and easy contact between one paper and another so that material may be interchanged, information may be obtained, correspondents appointed. It must endeavour to arrange, with the co-operation of the Vatican and the various hierarchies, useful and reliable press bureaux which can acquaint the Catholic press—and indeed the secularist press—with Church news and officially translated documents. It must also seek, after the model of the guilds of old, to protect its own trade and its own people, not only in a material and economic way, but also in setting ,a high standard and in determining the ideals below which no paper worthy of the name Catholic may fall.
These are some of the points that must here and now be studied, for the post-war world will have great need indeed of the wise, experienced and beneficent ip.fluence of Catholic doctrine and tradition, and these can best be canalised and propagated through the Catholic press in day-to-day terms and as they apply to day-today problems.
We trust that it will be possible here and now during the war to pursue the study of these questions, taking advantage of the magnificent international opportunity provided by the presence in this country of so many Catholic journalists from all over Europe. The fruits of a common study of this kind would be of the highest value as g datum from which the first and fully representative and official post-war International Catholic Press Conference could proceed to action.