The Biafran secession arose out of Nigeria’s most serious problem: distrust between the country’s major ethnic groups. Late in 1965 this distrust brought the processes of government in Africa’s most populous state almost to a standstill. By May 30, 1967, breakaway Biafra had announced its independence.

Early this month, as rivers of refugees clogged the roadways with nothing to do but to die, the lingering war came to a halt as Biafra capitulated and its leader, General C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, fled the country. But the collapse of the starving secessionist state by no means marked the end of the conflict—or the distrust.

Three days after thousands of Biafran soldiers surrendered, Nigeria’s leader, General Yakubu Gowon, assailed the international relief agencies coordinated through Joint Church Aid (JCA) and said: “Let them keep their blood money. We don’t want their help or assistance.” The day before, amid a hail of machine-gun fire, the last JCA plane roared away from the rough airstrip at Uga, thirty miles east of the captured main Biafran airport, with forty-five refugees aboard. An attempted flight to return with food was aborted.

Meanwhile, an estimated 24,000 tons of supplies were stockpiled in Nigeria—some of the food probably spoiling. Dr. Clyde W. Taylor of the National Association of Evangelicals declared: “This could be genocide, if the Nigerians don’t do anything with it.” The NAE World Relief Committee has cooperated with Caritas, the Catholic relief agency; the American Jewish Committee; and the Protestant Church World Service—which has spent over $1 million a month since August of 1968—in aid to Biafra.

Taylor and Nancy Nicalo, a director of Church World Service’s Africa department, told CHRISTIANITY TODAY they were hopeful airlift operations could resume soon.

“All relief efforts are stymied on the nearby Portugese island of São Tomé,” Miss Nicalo said at mid-month. But she added that the Nigerian Christian Council had asked for financial aid.

Church leaders stated Nigeria was cold toward the JCA because “we have given too much help to the wrong side,” i. e., Biafra. Britain, which was able to fly in ten tons of supplies to Biafra January 13, was seen as having the best chance to aid the starving millions because the British “officially” helped Nigeria.

Beyond the obvious problem of logistics, said Miss Nicalo, there is the extreme problem of gaining the confidence of the Biafrans, many of whom fled to the forest to avoid capture by the advancing Nigerian army. “I don’t think they are going to come out of the bush,” said Miss Nicalo. “The anguish doesn’t end.… Trust is a difficult thing to build up.”

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The Ibos, the dominant tribe in Biafra, are Christians, having embraced the faith when missionaries penetrated the swamps of the Niger delta near the turn of the century. About half of the estimated six to seven million still alive are Catholic; the rest are mainly of Protestant denominations. The Ibos, existing in a largely Muslim and animistic culture, are educated, individualistic, clannish—and sometimes considered arrogant.

By mid-month, church sources said two nuns were the only American church workers remaining in Biafra. An Irish nun, who left just before the surrender, observed: “There’s so much hatred you can’t expect it to stop, no matter what the leaders say.” But she said she planned to return.

A Biafran studying for his doctorate in philosophy at an American university told a reporter on the eve of the military collapse that he felt Biafrans would secretly welcome even defeat as a means to end the war. “But we’ve lost a generation,” he added sadly, “for the young children are so bad off from hunger that they can’t make any contribution.”

Would he go back now? “Yes, of course,” he replied, “even if it’s to die. It’s my country.”

Catholic Concerns: Celibacy, Due Process

The possibility of an open rift between Pope Paul and Dutch Catholics widened this month when an assembly of the Netherlands Catholic Church voted overwhelmingly in favor of lifting the ban on married priests and admitting women to the priesthood.

The Dutch national pastoral council—the only such council in the world—has no power to make changes in church policy. This can only be done by bishops, and all eight who attended the four-day gathering abstained on the controversial resolutions. But some observers see the move as driving deeper a wedge that could result in a split from Rome by the Netherlands church. A Vatican official, however, characterized the matter as “just an inquiry by the Dutch priests on the celibacy issue.”

The motion that “the obligation of celibacy as a condition of the priesthood should be abrogated” was adopted 93 to 2, with 11 abstentions, including the bishops. The motion that women be admitted to priesthood was approved 72 to 8, with 24 abstentions.

Many speakers argued that not much time was left: 400 of the 12,000 Dutch priests are said to have left the ministry in the past two years.

Meanwhile, “grievance” procedures for Michigan’s 2.3 million Roman Catholics became a reality last month, and a few days later, a Catholic bishop in San Francisco submitted for review by a committee of priests a decision regarding a priest’s assignment. Both events were precedent-making in the United States, and possibly the world.

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The arbitration-mediation procedure for settling administrative disputes in the church approved in Michigan is popularly known as “due process.” The National Conference of Catholic Bishops last fall unanimously approved a report urging that each bishop make such measures available.

The Michigan plan, spearheaded by John Cardinal Dearden of Detroit (he was threatened by a priests’ strike if due process wasn’t established by January 1), provides for a five-member conciliation panel in each diocese. Laymen, priests, and members of religious orders compose the panel, in line with Vatican II’s recommendation that laymen take an increasing role in the church.

If the conciliation panel fails, the next step is a statewide provincial arbitration board, and ultimately, each diocese will have an administrative tribunal that can make binding rulings.

The Michigan bishops took the unprecedented step of agreeing to the plan, even if one of them is involved in a case. San Francisco archbishop Joseph T. McGucken agreed, in a similar step, that he would abide by a committee recommendation, as did complaining priest Eugene Boyle.

McGucken removed Boyle, a controversial activist, from a teaching position at St. Patrick’s College last September, while retaining his other assignments. The fourteen-member committee of priests published a report that appeared to strike a middle ground that will allow Boyle to continue some teaching.

But in Washington, D. C., attorneys for twenty-one theologians at Catholic University who dissented from Pope Paul’s birth-control encyclical blasted some members of the Catholic hierarchy and the school’s trustees for making a mockery of due process.

In a 217-page book to be published soon, reported Washington Star religion editor William Willoughby, the attorneys charge that an inquiry into the conduct of the theologians “paid merely verbal respect for the principles of academic responsibility.… There is little academic freedom where the price of its exercise is a year spent under an unjustified professional cloud.”

According to the New York Times, the Archdiocese of Baltimore is also implementing a due-process procedure similar to the one in Michigan, and dioceses in Denver, New Orleans, and other cities are expected to follow suit shortly.

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Irish Stew Sans Spuds

Thirty U. S. Catholic bishops attended a workshop at mid-month designed to familiarize them with communications theory and know-how in an age of increasingly sophisticated religious journalism and evident controversy within Catholicism.

Top media pros speaking at the six-day lab and lecture session in New Orleans were NBC-TV president Don Durgin, Westinghouse Broadcasting president Donald McGannon, television star Mike Douglas, and Frank Shakespeare of the U. S. Information Agency. Other lecturers included William R. MacKaye, religion editor of the Washington Post, and National Catholic News Service director Richard Guilderson.

To the consternation of diocesan editors, however, not one working editor from the American Catholic press was asked to address the prelates.

Pouted Ed Wall of Baltimore’s Catholic Review: “A major communications workshop for the hierarchy without … successful working editors from the diocesan press is giving the bishops Irish stew without any potatoes.”

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