IT IS inevitable that the sad events of this week will cast a long shadow over the hopes of all those who are working and praying for reconciliation and justice in Northern Ireland. The death of any hunger striker brings victory to no one. It is a despairing rejection of life which despite the moving plea for peace by Mrs Sands, seems destined to result only in bloodshed.
The inflexibility shown by negotiators on both sides cannot be a source of pride for anyone. The frail prospect of peace has faded further into the distance. A new sectarian martyr has been made and the seeds of conflict have been sown.
However it is worth remembering that the threat to fast to death is not a uniquely Irish form of protest. Protesters living under many different regimes have engaged in this lethal game of bluff and counter-bluff. It is always a desperate measure undertaken Only when there has been a complete breakdown of trust and faith in the normal political processes. There is always the hope of effecting change but this is not necessarily accompanied by the claimed intention of committing the final act of passive aggression.
Few issues are clear in the propaganda war surrounding a hunger strike. In the past week the Church's role has often been seriously misinterpreted. The duty of a priest to comfort the dying — even when death has been publicisedas premeditated suicide — is not a matter of choice but a basic part of pastoral ministry which cannot be equated with political support.
As Catholics we must condemn acts of violence, including self-destructive ones, but we must also not forget to stress the difference between comforting a sinner and condoning a sin and between praying for the soul of a dead man and endorsing his actions in life.