Having been on holiday, I have just now read Iwo letters in the Catholic Herald from Army chaplains. I welcomed Mr McMillan's statement (August 18) that information gathering by padres is "contrary to the whole nature of' the priesthood and to that confidentiality so often linked with it."
This is exactly the ease we made when we found the intelligencegathering by padres going on, and it is good to have our opinion confirmed, as to its impropriety, by one of the chaplains themselves.
The first indication got of improper conduct — by our standards — of Army padres was a complaint from a fellow priest that a padre had, appeared at his presbytery armed. The same padre had, on his own admission, gone out armed, with patrols.
Intelligence-gathering took place in Northern Ireland, and neither Bishop Tickle nor anyone in authority has said before this that they disapproved it. This is another reason for welcoming the letter of Mgr McMillan in which this disapproval is stated. If such disapproval had been stated by Bishop Tickle when he suddenly arrived in Northern Ireland during the intelligence gathering scandal it would have saved some of us much worry and possible danger.
I approached a senior Army padre and asked him bluntly: "When Fr X gathered information, was he doing it voluntarily or was he being used by the Army?" He answered without the slightest hesitation: "I think he was used by the Army".
Fr X had already said that he had a particular interest in intelligence work and that was why he did it. So what we are dealing with is admissions made by padres and clear evidence of intelligence gathering which is now stated by Mgr McMillan as being against both Church policy and Catholic theology. We make progress. It is not, however. against Army policy. We still have progress to make.
As to Fr Robson's letter in the same issue, in which he says: '1 am proud to be identified with the British Army; sadly, I am ashamed sometimes of being identified with
some of my brother priests in that sad province of Ulster", I understand perfectly what he says. His priorities — Army first. priesthood sifter — are exactly what some of us complain about,
It is useful to have in print a declaration that these priorities are exactly as we suspected. As to whether padres should cut soldiers' hair or not, there are, I suppose, trivialities to be gone through in all walks of life. At any rate one should prefer a padre cutting hair to a padre out on patrol.
(Fr) Desmond Wilson Belfast
The diplorable situation regarding the treatment of prisoners at Long Kesh arises from the failure of both the government and the prisoners to face the logic of the facts.
All these terrorists, whether they be IRA. Arabs, South Moluccans, Croatian nationalists, Red Brigade, Basque, or what have you, are not criminals, in the ordinary sense of the word. They consider themselves to be soldiers fighting a war on behalf of some oppressed section of the population.
Whether they are justified in this is beside the point. We can all have our own opinions about that, The fact, however. is that, right or wrong, they are idealists engaged in a war. They are absolutely correct, therefore, in demanding to be treated as prisoners of war when they are caught, and all the governments concerned are gravel at fault in failing to recognise this and in failing to accord them this status. with all the amenities that go with it.
On the other hand, the prisoners, in demanding prisoner of war status, themselves fail to appreciate the implications of what they are demanding; for the great difference between criminal confinement and belliquent confinement is that in the first case there has been a sentence with a fixed and known terminus.
The criminal may expect to be released once he has undergone his sentence. In the second case there is no sentence. but the captured soldier is confined for the duration of the hostilities and will only be released once the war is over and a peace treaty has been signed.
So, if the prisoners at Long Kesh are to be treated as prisoners of war, as they demand, their sentence must be set aside and they must look forward to remaining in captivity till a peace treaty has been signed between the British Government and the IRA. Are they really prepared for such a long incarceration? I doubt it. M. L. J. White Aberdeen