Salisbury Review – October 1986
Dear Cardinal Hume,
Thank you for your reply of 6 May to my letter concerning the clerical status of Mgr Bruce Kent and his exploitation of it in secular and highly partisan political activities. I have to say, however, that I find it entirely unsatisfactory, and I regret that it does not address itself more specifically to the points about which I wrote to you.
In particular, it draws a distinction between political an moral questions which I did not draw, and then – in demonstrating the truism that the political and moral aspects of the nuclear debate are indissolubly interlinked – disposes of an argument which I did not put forward.
I can only reiterate that the arguments deployed by Bruce Kent – both moral and political – could just as well be deployed by an agnostic or an atheist. I am not for a moment suggesting that Mgr Kent is an atheist or an agnostic – only that his input to the nuclear debate is overwhelmingly secular. As such it does not deserve to be given the unfair advantage of being invested with the authority of his status in the Catholic Church.
Perhaps an analogy will help: let us imagine someone in a senior position in the British Medical Association – a man of some eminence because of his surgical skills. Supposing he wishes to campaign full-time in favour of abortion-on-demand, but that the BMA either is opposed to, or is divided upon this issue.
If such a man is given leave of absence to wage such a campaign, is it not fair and right for the BMA to insist that he does not use his BMA status to imply BMA support for his position in any way, given that the BMA has (in our hypothetical scenario) taken no position on one side or the other?
To return to the case of your Church and nuclear weapons, I would contend that, if it had decided to back the anti-nuclear cause, it should say so openly and take up the place available to it in this democratic society on the public stage. Since it has not, as yet, endorsed the CND position as a Church, it should therefore avoid at all costs the suspicion of political partisanship of an indirect nature inherent in allowing one of its senior figures to campaign exclusively on one side of the debate in which it has itself declined to take an overall position.
Alternatively, if it wishes to allow one senior priest to campaign in an entirely one-sided war (however "important" you consider his contribution to be), then it should be stipulated that he should not use his clerical title or status in any way implying that the Church supports his campaigning position.
I would further suggest that, given the "sharply divided views on either side" of what you rightly describe as "this vital debate", it is incumbent on the Church to see that the intervention of its priests is a balanced one. This either requires there to be an equal number of priests given equivalent privileges to campaign on each side of the debate, or the choice of priests allowed to campaign to be restricted to ones who will deploy the arguments in an even-handed way.
Neither Bruce Kent himself nor his most ardent admirers would maintain for one moment that his is an even-handed contribution to this crucial controversy. Yet there is no evidence whatever of anyone being given licence by the Church to deploy the other side of the case on a full-time basis.
It is, in short, impossible to escape the conclusion that the Catholic Church is – by permitting Mgr Kent's continued activities for CND – opening itself to the charge of grave partisanship on this intensely contentious political and moral issue. Sometimes, in totalitarian dictatorships, it is essential for priests to shelter behind what protection the Cloth can give them when they speak out on moral and political issues. This is not the case here, where Bruce Kent can campaign as hard as he likes for CND as an individual, without risking torture and death.
I have been very reluctant to make a public issue of this matter, though I have been campaigning against the CND and its dangerous policies since 1981. This has been for two reasons: first, I am a member of the Jewish faith, and am always reluctant to be drawn into Church issues; secondly, the permission given to Mgr Kent to campaign would have made it hard to stop him until the end of his term as a CND employee.
That term [as CND General Secretary] has now ended. Further extension of this man's right to draw on the dignity of his clerical status to promote a one-sided moral and political position not endorsed by the Church, can only be construed as the exercise of bias in favour of the CND position. My role is to counter the CND position, and I really cannot postpone addressing myself to this question any longer.
This is a matter of public concern, and thus I would respectfully request you, in replying to the points I have raised, to frame your comments in a form that you would not object to my making public. I very much regret putting you to the trouble of dealing with this, but it naturally follows from the present, highly unsatisfactory position.
[NOTE: Referring to his resignation as a priest in February 1987, Bruce Kent's autobiography Undiscovered Ends, published in 1992 after the end of the Cold War, states on pages 203-4:–
"... I was getting more and more disenchanted with a Church with its own clear political focus of which nationalism, especially Polish, and anti-Communism were central features ... The hullabaloo of 1983 only postponed conflict by a few years. In fact until the October of 1986. Then, with another election on the horizon, Julian Lewis of the Coalition [for Peace Through Security], about which I have already said too much, opened a new campaign in the form of 'An Open Letter to Cardinal Hume' in the conservative Salisbury Review. It was a direct challenge to the Cardinal to make up his mind about me. To let me go on as CND Chair (which I had become), could, according to Lewis, 'only be construed as the exercise of bias in favour of the CND position'. I knew that the Lewis piece was only round one in another anti-Kent campaign which would rumble on during the pre-election months. I also knew that I could not cope with it ... Support for Solidarnosc in Poland was priestly. Support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua was not. To be Bishop of HM Forces was not political. To be CND Chairman was ... By December 1986 I had made up my mind to resign."]