A Profile of Bishop Remi De Roo
“Two superpowers have arrogantly taken onto themselves the right to divide the world into two camps and say, ‘We’ll declare our hegemony over this portion of the world.’ The rest of the world is then held at ransom because of the danger that these two superpowers could provoke nuclear war.”
These are the words of Remi De Roo, Bishop of Victoria, one of North America’s most outspoken Catholic clergy. His recent book, Cries of Victims — Voice of God (Novalis/James Lorimer: Ottawa/Toronto, 1986) is a continuation of the 1983 statement of the Catholic bishops, “Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis.” Since he was a key member of the group, Bishop De Roo’s name is closely associated with this work, which has attracted unprecedented public attention, both critical and complimentary.
Bishop De Roo reminds us that we, as individuals, are responsible for what happens here on earth. “If we believe in democracy then we believe that every individual in society should be a subject — that is, a responsible agent in the shaping of society,” he said in a recent interview. His book also states: “Justice does not live in the abstract…it must be lived…” “When laws and human authority are responsible for impoverishment, hunger, and oppression, it is the duty of Christians to disobey the unjust dictates of state and society in order to obey God and conscience.”
Remi De Roo believes fervently that gospel principles can be applied to secular problems, yet his message also applies to agnostics, atheists, or Buddhists. It reaches beyond the boundaries of Christianity.
If we look at societal systems we can see tremendous inequality. The wristwatch I wear cost $25 and was made in the Philippines, where labor is very cheap. I doubt that the people who made this watch have a refrigerator full of fresh food, a car, medical insurance, indoor plumbing, or perhaps even clean water. When I look at my watch I don’t think of them, yet my purchase of it has world-wide implications, as an instance of the exploitation of the poor and powerless by the rich and powerful. Many of us exploiters have the best of intentions, but obviously this is not enough. The differences between rich and poor nations are widening every year, as is the gulf between the rich and poor within each country. Even in the land of plenty, the United States, there are 35 million people living in poverty. World-wide, over 50,000 people die every day from hunger-related problems. Yet there is enough grain produced globally for each person to have two loaves of bread a day. “Capital and technology,” says Remi De Roo, “have been given priority over people, and the economies of the world are not organized to meet the basic needs of people.”
Food, he points out, has become a weapon. “Whether or not people eat is largely a question of what financial power they’ve got and whether they are willing to comply with the ideologies of the superpowers.” In a world where money and power are priorities, food, meaningful work, and individual rights are lost in the scramble.
This is not new. “It’s been going on forever,” Bishop De Roo comments, “but we have a heightened awareness of its development since the industrial revolution.” He traces the distortion back to the Enlightenment, when science and religion were divorced from each other. “Religion and science became antagonistic. As a result, science claimed to be value-free and unconsciously followed the values of the survival of the fittest — of the powerful.”
As the scientific method gained importance, says De Roo, the influence of our intuition, our better judgment, our feelings, our morality dwindled. Relationships among people became less important than the hard facts of science. Both are important to our survival. We need new inventions and technical progress, but the frighteningly rapid growth of technology has not been matched by the spiritual growth needed to guide our use of it. Bishop De Roo: “Right now the microchip is being used commercially to increase the power of the already powerful. The superpowers are obviously trying to control the direction of this scientific development for their own ideological, military, and economic purposes…The microchip in itself, like all other human inventions, is neither good nor evil. It illustrates God’s invitation to human beings to take responsibility, to become stewards of creation, co-creators with God. So what’s being done with these technologies? How, and for what purpose are they being used?”
Bishop De Roo says that, while religion in the Age of Enlightenment was not powerful enough to influence the development of science, there are now signs of change within the scientific community itself. “The most advanced scientists today, particularly the physicists, are becoming spiritual. We’ve gone beyond our understanding of the world as made up of particles and we’re now moving into the realm of relationships. We’re beginning to realize there’s a mystery behind those relationships and that ultimately the very direction of our movement is governed by our relationships — by which I mean our values.”
If we are to be able to function as responsible creators of this world, we need to understand the happenings around us. It is through the media that we acquire our interpretations of the world. Remi De Roo believes that the next step in the communications industry is the “very control of the minds of people….”
Already, people are at the mercy of the international news systems. If you look at the media — the press, television, and radio — what may be the most important is what does not get reported. For instance, what image do we have of the Third World? What image do we have of the intentions of our supposed opponents, who are depicted as the enemy? Our images are shaped by the political, ideological interests of certain powerful people. But if the media screens out significant information, how can we make intelligent decisions? Because the media are part of the global economy, they are under the control of economic interests. Everything is being reorganized in terms of economics and profit and power.” Reporters, often among the most enlightened, are powerless because they and their editors are paid by corporations whose driving force is profit.
The arms race and the power of the multinational arms industry is a destructive sector which depends on the media for its continued existence. “Billions of dollars are pushed into needless arms acquisition [because of] hatred fed by propaganda,” Bishop De Roo points out. “We are prevented from developing a life-sustaining economy because we do not have the money, the natural resources, the power of the scientists’ brains to develop alternative economies. Yet the majority of scientists today are working for the military-working, in other words, to destroy us. The best of the brain power in the world today is being used to plot the destruction of all those resources.” We must resist the propaganda of the media and refuse to be caught up in the competitive drive for profit and power.
Bishop De Roo continues, “We have to break out answer some of our needs on earth-such as clean drinking water and adequate housing. “Is there anything that we take for granted more than our ability to turn on a tap and have clean water? But most of humanity drinks dangerous water and yet that could be easily solved. One percent of the money wasted on the global arms race could solve the clean drinking water problem for the whole world. Even here in Canada, our governments do not have positive policies at the federal, provincial, or municipal levels to encourage low income housing. The social consequences are horrendous. For instance, one of the main causes of divorce is inadequate housing. And I fault our governments.”
“Military development is not economic. It is wastage. The military industrial complex is not job-producing. This has been documented time and time again. Because of the sophisticated technology that is used in modern armaments, it costs many times more to produce a job in the military than in such areas as forestry, education, or agriculture. And these forestry, education, and agricultural jobs are positive jobs. Military jobs are negative jobs.”
Since these truths are readily available to any thinking person, why don’t most business people favor converting the military industrial complex into a useful economy? When I asked Bishop De Roo about this, he replied that business people are assaulted with the same propaganda as the rest of us, are convinced the Soviets are enemies to be feared. “Profit. That has been drilled into business men. but let’s not forget that unless they accept that philosophy and go along, they will not succeed in this rat race. Those who think differently are eliminated by the forces of competition.”
Politicians are part of this whole situation. “They are interested in getting themselves reelected. They only have short term views and many of them are not doing serious reading. They are so preoccupied with the immediate pressures; everyone is calling on them to solve the immediate problems. Frequently once their party is in power they are no longer setting policy. Governments are no longer setting policy, but are simply managing the status quo. The policy is being set by the gurus of multinationals who have an interest in marketing the global economy because that’s where they get their jobs and their power. So the kind of economics that the government is getting fed into is the kind of economics that suits the multinationals.”
Bishop De Roo believes that women have a special place in the peace movement. “Partly because of their historical experience of oppression, they are more sensitive to the forces in relationships. The biological experience of mothering is a constant historical reminder of the necessary care of human beings. Men don’t live that experience. if families were truly mutual relationships, then the fathers would experience what fathering is all about. But because women are the ones who carry children, they are reminded of the significance of life more than men. One of the marvelous things is the awakening of consciousness of women around the world. That could be one of the most powerful revolutionary forces.”
Bishop De Roo has come a long way from his beginnings on a Manitoba farm, where he grew up during the depression. Yet in many ways he has never left the strong influences of his devout Flemish family, who lived their religion every day. “Responsibility for the whole family is what economics and business should be about,” he says.
Michael Ferber, a writer for the American magazine, The Nation, says that the secular left, those with progressive ideas, are disheartened and defeated. In times like these it is the religious left, the progressive clerics, who are wrestling with the concepts that may hold answers to the crises of the planet. They are grappling with such issues as: What is the good society and are there means to reach it that don’t spoil the ends? How do we find the courage to take the necessary risks to bring about change? Ferber says that of every five people working for progressive causes, at least three draw strength and energy from their religious convictions. Bishop Remi De Roo’s extraordinary energy and leadership are firmly rooted in his faith, extending far beyond the boundaries of religion. He is an example for all of us.