Council Father Seeks Consideration of Conscientious Objection

Archbishop Thomas Roberts, S.J., former Archbishop of Bombay, wants the ecumenical council to give complete support to the position of conscientious objectors.

Scheduled to address the council on this subject, Archbishop Roberts was unable to do so since debate on that section of the Church in the modern world document was closed before his turn to speak came up. He later secured the signatures of 86 council Fathers requesting that he speak despite the closing of debate, but he was too late in presenting his petition.

Archbishop Roberts disclosed what he had intended to say to the council by reading his proposed intervention at a press conference.

Its major portion was recounting the history of the Austrian Catholic layman, Franz Jaegerstaetter, executed by the Nazis in Berlin in 1943 for refusing to serve in the armed forces, and who received no support for his stand from either clergy or laity.

Praising the Austrian’s solitary example, Archbishop Roberts said that the schema dealing with problems of war and peace should take positive steps to defend the individual’s right to obey the dictates of his conscience, and to be a conscientious objector.

To do this, he suggested that a paragraph in the schema which provides that “the Christian is to presume the justice of the lawful authority when injustice is not manifestly clear” be omitted completely.

Archbishop Roberts asked for a stronger statement affirming the right of conscientious objection. He would have the document read: “The council commends the example of those nations which for more than half a century have successfully provided for the informed conscientious objections of their subjects, even in the hour of utmost peril.”

Lastly, Archbishop Roberts proposed that the council “should support all efforts, such as those of the United Nations and the World Court, to put the full weight of law behind those individuals who refuse blind obedience.”

In speaking of his failure to reach the floor of the council, Archbishop Roberts was critical of council procedure for giving what he called a privileged status to cardinals, and said this was improper since all Fathers are to be regarded as equals.

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