Text Size

A Call to All Christians

A Call to All Christians
Pastoral Message of the Catholic Bishops of Rhodesia
5 June 1969

Two years ago the people of Rhodesia were asked to submit proposals for a new Constitution. We, the Catholic Bishops availed ourselves of the opportunity and presented to the Whaley Commission carefully prepared suggestions designed to ensure that this Constitution should promote the common good, guarantee the dignity and the freedom of every individual, build up a true social order, bring about the unity of the nation, and establish concord with other nations.
In our examination of the Proposals recently published we have kept in mind not only our duty to preserve and promote the moral order but the duty also of all our people likewise to promote the moral order and act in accordance with it. It is a responsibility that rests on everyone irrespective of race.
We have brought to bear on our examination of the text of the Proposals our considerable experience of Rhodesian life and our knowledge of all its people. We have remembered the non-African minority who have contributed so greatly to the country’s development and whose interests like those of any other group must at all times be protected from undue interference. We have thought no less of the majority, the African people, of whom we have a particular knowledge, whose well-being as a weaker group we are in charity and justice bound vigilantly to care for and whose friendship we are in a special way privileged to enjoy.
We are fully aware of the seriousness of the step we take when we say that the Proposals for the new Constitution are in many respects completely contrary to Christian teaching and we must therefore reject them and for the benefit of our own people and of all men of good will publicly condemn them.
The spirit of justice and fraternal charity which is at the heart of all Our Divine Lord’s teaching finds no place in the document. His command to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matt. 7:12) is outlawed in these Proposals which have clearly been drafted not with the purpose of achieving the common good, but with the deliberate intent of ensuring the permanent domination of one section of the population over the other, in such a way that practices of racial discrimination shall be intensified and the unwarranted privileges of one group consolidated at the expense of another.
Such policy is irreconcilable with God’s law and in time to come must have the most tragic consequences for the country as a whole. We cannot be silent when a moral issue of such extreme gravity is in question. The Church has a right to pass moral judgements even on matters touching the political order whenever personal basic rights or the salvation of souls makes such judgement necessary.
We not with particular concern the following points in the Constitutional Proposals:
  1. On moral grounds we vehemently protest against the powers to be conceded to the Administration. In virtue of such powers discriminatory executive and administrative acts would be excluded from the Declaration of Human Rights and indeed removed from even the limited censure of the Senate. To accept such powers as being constitutional would be morally unjustifiable. It would be the equivalent of signing a blank cheque for government by bureaucratic dictatorship.
  2. Whereas we had urged that there should be a specific Declaration of Rights and an independent body created for the maintenance of the spirit as well of the letter of this Declaration, in the Proposals these basic human rights are not described clearly and unequivocally and are declared to be non-justifiable. If these proposals are implemented, no court would “have the right to inquire into, or pronounce upon, the validity of any law on the ground that it is inconsistent with the Declaration of Rights” (Section 38, Part One: Proposals for a New Constitution for Rhodesia). The guardianship of the Declaration would be taken away from a Constitutional Council and exercised by the Senate, an organ of government which is not immune from political pressure. This is most undesirable as it would pave way for the encroachment of government on the rights of the individual.
  3. We are most seriously concerned at the limitations which in terms of the Proposals could be imposed on the right of freedom of expression. This could mean that the voice of the people could be silenced by government decree, the teaching mission of the Church gravely impeded and the means of communication perverted into becoming the brainwashing instruments of any dictatorial regime.
  4. The new Constitution will not provide adequate elected representation for all sections of the population. Instead, a small minority will for an unforeseeable time to come have a two-third majority in the House of Assembly. Further, a new criterion of representation defective in equity and contrary to the fundamental principles of social justice has been introduced, in that Africans in the House of Assembly are to be represented in proportion to their collective income tax assessment. The oft-proclaimed principle of advancement on merit is thus set aside in favour of government by group, a man’s worth and responsibility being estimated according to his wealth.
  5. In previous pastoral statements we have made clear beyond all doubt our conscientious objection to laws which segregate people merely on the basis of race. The new Constitutional Proposals with their separate rolls and constituencies to be determined solely on the basis of race are therefore wholly unacceptable to us as are also the proposed provisions for Land Tenure, which are obviously intended to render difficult any real unification of the nation.
  6. A further deplorable aspect of the new Proposals is that they favour the perpetuation and indeed the increase of tribalism. Representation in Parliament according to tribal origins and the establishment of Provisional Councils for other than purely administrative purposes militate against the possibility of ever building a single Rhodesian nation.
The divisive and disruptive elements contained in these Proposals are not only irreconcilable with the Christian spirit of brotherhood and with the civic duty of promoting national unity, they are calculated to destroy every possibility of achieving the common good. No one should be deceived by them. They offer a superficial but completely illusory hope of security for the future, and can only breed hatred and violence. If they should implemented in a new Constitution, it will be extremely difficult for us effectively to counsel moderation to a people who have so patient for so long under discriminatory laws and are now presented with such extreme provocation.
It is not by Proposals such as these that the traditional understanding and friendship between the races can be retained and the future of Rhodesia assured. Only even-handed justice and conduct enlightened by Christian charity can give this or any other country real hope of stability, progress and peace, or enable it to establish lasting concord with other nations.
It should be clear therefore that no one may hold himself free from blame if in this momentous matter he should neglect to vote without thoroughly informing himself of what is at issue and making his decision before God and his conscience.
  • Francis Markall, S.J., Archbishop of Salisbury
  • Aloysius Haene S.M.B., Bishop of Gwelo
  • Adolph G. Schmitt, C.M.M., Bishop of Bulawayo
  • Donal R. Lamont O. Carm., Bishop of Umtali
  • Ignatius Prieto, S.M.I., Bishop of Wankie