Bishop Sydney Charles' Pastoral Letter on the Torchlight Ban
PASTORAL LETTER OF BISHOP SYDNEY A. CHARLES ON THE BAN IMPOSED BY THE PEOPLE'S REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT ON THE 'TORCHLIGHT' NEWSPAPER, TO BE READ IN ALL CHURCHES AND CHAPELS ON SUNDAY 21ST OCTOBER, 1979
My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, I am making the following statement, not in order to enter into the political arena, not for the sake of opportunism, not with a motive of destabilizing either the Revolution or the People's Revolutionary Government; not, indeed, for any negative reason whatsoever. I make this statement out of a deep sense of duty, as Bishop, to Christ, to His Church, and to the People of God in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, whom I am committed to serve.
I recall here, my message at the opening Mass of Assembly '78, on that memorable Friday, December 1st, 1978. The Church, the Body of Christ, was gathered from every nook and cranny of our nation, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, to listen to what the Spirit of God was saying to us all as members. On that momentous occasion, I began by speaking of the humble entrance of Jesus, the Messiah-King, into Jerusalem, His final entrance to complete His work of salvation, to suffer, die and rise again. Our present Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, was there as well as the former Prime Minister. The Governor-General too, was present. Acknowledging the presence of these our civil leaders, I said: "We want to tell them that the Church's role is unlike any other role in the nation, and we come to fulfill that role HUMBLY", like Jesus our Saviour and Master. In order to do this, however, in order "to do the work of Jesus" I insisted, "we, the Church, have to be a new creation. And this work is not the work of anyone else, neither Government nor Opposition, nor any other group. Yet we are working TOGETHER and we WISH to work together, so that TOGETHER we can promote that righteousness, that is justice, in order that there may be peace in our country."
In many public statements I have already made, I commended the People's Revolutionary Government for the splendid achievements since assuming power as our civil leaders. Confer. Bishop's Message read in all Catholic Churches (April 1, 1979); Bishop's Message in "Catholic News" (Oct. 7, '79); "Catholic News" interview on occasion of silver jubilee of priestly ordination (August 1979); even in Rome on the occasion of my Ad Limina visit (April 29th - May 6th, 1979) I made favourable mention of the People's Revolutionary Government and the efforts being made to build a just society. The support given by the Church and the appreciation expressed in this regard are well known both in Grenada and in the Caribbean as a whole.
I wish to quote here in part, my message of the 7th October ("Catholic News"): "I wish to commend the People's Revolutionary Government who are straining every limb to build a just society. No one can deny that their sense of responsibility is urging them on to work as fast and as thoroughly as possible. However I also feel it is necessary to state that there is an over-sensitivity to criticism that is understandable, but not desirable."
I then made an appeal, which I now repeat, for the virtues of unity in essentials, tolerance in non-essentials and charity in all things, in the building of our new Grenada society.
At this point, I wish to express my concern about the recent suppression of the "Torchlight" by the People's Revolutionary Government. The silencing of any newspaper in a country is always a matter of grave concern but more so in our situation since the newspaper silenced is the ONLY one without political affiliation, as far as I am aware. And this is what is so disturbing.
One of the greatest de-humanising evils that can befall a country is where there is no freedom of the press. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, to which Grenada subscribes, states: "Everyone has a right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and import information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." And the official teaching of the Church is that "modern man cannot do without information that is full, consistent, accurate and true." He has a right to be thus informed. The same document continues: "it is futile to talk about the right to information if a variety of the sources for it are not made available." (Pastoral Instruction 29 Jan, 1071 Para. 34) "Without it (information) he (man) cannot understand the perpetually changing world in which he lives, nor be able to adapt himself to the real situation. This adaptation calls for frequent decisions that should be made with a full knowledge of events. Only in this way can he assume a responsible and active role in his community and be a part of its economic, political, cultural and religious life." (Ibid) "The role of the civil authorities in this matter is essentially a positive one. Their chief task is not to create difficulties or to suppress, though at times corrective measures many become necessary." The Second Vatican Council explained that man's freedom is to be respected as far as possible and curtailed only when and insofar as necessary. Censorship therefore, should only be used in the very last extremity." These are indeed very weighty statements from two most important documents concerning one of the most fundamental rights of man, namely the right to speak and to be heard; for there is real poverty when some do all the talking and others have no opportunity to intervene, no "freedom to assert their own humanity."
Whenever freedom of the press is at stake in any country, ways and means are always invented to exercise this basic human right, even to the extent of going underground as obtained in the last regime, in fact, when the New Jewel newspaper was outlawed.
Let it be clearly understood, that I am not taking any side in this issue. Communicators in the mass media have indeed a very strict obligation to act with the greatest respect for the TRUTH. They must also have a great respect for the common good of society. No one has a right to propagate lies or distort the truth, inciting towards actions damaging to the human rights and dignity of others. The "Torchlight" newspaper has been accused of serious, dangerous and false statements; if these accusations are true, there are existing laws and the law-courts to deal with those responsible. Let the offenders be charged and, if found guilty, by due process of law, be punished accordingly.
A similar point was made, four years ago, by Heads of Churches of the C.C.G., concerning the Newspaper Amendment Act 1975 and its alleged violation: "we do admit that after the laws of a country have been enacted and promulgated, citizens must obey. This applies to the Amendment of the Grenada Newspaper Act. We therefore disapprove of any type of law breaking in this regard, and offenders must be treated in the constitutional way, i.e. charged and tried in a court of justice. While however it is the prerogative of a Government to pass legislation and new laws from time to time, we believe it is also the duty of Government to ensure that citizens do not get the general impression every time laws are passed that they are arbitrarily and made simply to meet emergencies and tend to suppress rather than to encourage freedom. Any appearance of suppression of freedom is certain to lead to restlessness and rebellion." Furthermore one of the first things the People's Revolutionary Government did on assuming power, was to repeal the said Act to the great jubilation of all citizens.
Of two evils the lesser should be chosen, if there is a choice. My question is, has the People's Revolutionary Government chosen the lesser evil by the total ban imposed on the publication of the "Torchlight"? To my mind, the answer is NO.
Our Prime Minister, at a Seminar on "Social Change in Grenada", held earlier this year, told the Churches to say if and when, in their opinion, the Government should go wrong. This was certainly a noble statement for him to have made publicly. In the light of the above quoted principles of the means of social communication, in a spirit of constructive criticism, and in an effort to join in building the new society we all aspire to, I must now express total disagreement with the action taken by the People's Revolutionary Government regarding the suppression of the "Torchlight" newspaper.
The People's Revolutionary Government has announced however, on Radio Free Grenada, that the "Torchlight" will begin to operate once more in a few weeks under a re-structured arrangement. Also, that Government has no intention to assume ownership. This is much appreciated. No one, perhaps, knows yet the full implication of this prospective change. However, one would need to have confidence in the newspaper under the new management, that it will, in fact, be a free press. This is very important both for the morale of the country and the international reputation of Grenada now and in the future.
I now repeat my pledge made as Bishop, less than three weeks after the Revolution of March 13th (Message of April 1, 1979) and read in all the Catholic Churches of the nation: "The Catholic Church therefore pledges the loyalty, support and co-operation if its members to the present Government members, who, like the Church itself, are in the service of ALL the people of the nation." And the Catholic Church wishes to support the Government programmes "which aim at developing the WHOLE man and EVERY man in society, without discrimination, thus liberating him for COMMUNION and PARTICIPATION, at all levels in his life as a HUMAN BEING, private, public, social, economic, political, religious, moral and spiritual, so that the Grenadian will be enabled not only to HAVE more but to BE more." "It is what a man IS rather than what he HAS that counts" (Gaudium et Spes Para. 35)."
"May the new dawn and the new era . . . bring to each Church member and, indeed, each citizen of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, a new VISION, a gift of the Holy Spirit, enabling him/her to look around and see the PERSON next to him/her, as a masterpiece of God's creation, as a BROTHER and a SISTER, to be known, loved and served for the sake of the God and Father who has lovingly made ALL men and endowed them with the same human DIGNITY and the same DESTINY, namely the glory of God."
And may the blessing of the good God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with our leaders and all other citizens of this nation, now and in the years to come.
Sydney A. Charles,
Bishop of St. George's-in-Gda.