Bruce Kent
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BRUCE KENT

Biographical Summary
  • Born:
  • London, 22 June 1929
  • Education:  
  • Lower Canada College, Montreal, 1940-43
  • Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, 1943-46
  • Brasenose College, Oxford, (Law) 1949-52
  • St Edmund's College, Ware, (Catholic seminary) 1952-58
  • Manchester University, Honorary Doctorate of Laws, 1987
  • Middlesex University, Honorary Doctorate, 2002
  • Brasenose College, Oxford, Honorary Fellow 2013
  • Military Service:
  • 6th Royal Tank Regiment, 2nd Lt., 1947-49
  • Church Life
  • Ordained, Diocese of Westminster, 1958,
  • Curate Kensington/Notting Hill, 1958-62
  • Chair, Westminster Schools Commission, 1964-66
  • Chaplain, London University, 1966-74
  • Chaplain, Pax Christi, 1974-77
  • Parish Priest, Euston, 1977-80
  • Retired from active ministry, February 1987
  • Campaigns
  • Joined CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) 1960
  • General Secretary and Chair, CND, 1980-90
  • Chair, War on Want, 1974-76
  • President, International Peace Bureau, 1985-92
  • President, London Region United Nations Association,1990-91
  • Secondary School Environment, Development, Disarmament Project 1993-95
  • UK organiser, Hague Conference 1999
  • Current peace-related positions include:
  • Vice-President, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
  • Vice-President, Pax Christi
  • President Emeritus, Movement for the Abolition of War
  • Patron, Palestine Solidarity Campaign
  • Trustee, Oasis of Peace: British Friends of Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam
  • Publications
  • innumerable articles on peace issues and regular book reviews
  • pamphlets include: Peace is Our Problem;  Franz Jägerstätter: the man who said no to Hitler;  The Nonviolence of Helder Camara; Another World is Possible, Another World is Here
  • books: Building the Global Village (HarperCollins 1991), Undiscovered Ends (HarperCollins, 1992)
  • Other Memberships:
  • United Nations Association
  • Campaign Against the Arms Trade
  • Compassion in World Farming
  • Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence




BRUCE KENT – SIX DECADES OF WORK FOR PEACE

Biographical Information

Chaplain to Pax Christi UK (1958) Helped to promote annual youth meetings "Routes" in Europe each summer involving hundreds of young people (1959 onwards). In 1966 opened the first Pax Christi summer hostel in London to welcome young visitors to Britain and to promote international exchange and dialogue.

Joined Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1960)

Launched a major correspondence in The Times (1967) about the morality of nuclear deterrence which produced much debate especially within the Churches.

Founded the Nigeria-Biafra Committee (1967) with the aim of ending arms supplies to both sides in a civil war. Flew to Biafra by night (1969) on a Joint Church Aid relief plane for a fact-finding mission.

1970s

Member of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace (1971).

Active in protesting about use of torture in Brazil.

Worked for Conscientious Objectors in Spain and Portugal (early 1970s). Set up COAT - Conscientious Objectors' Advisory Team to promote recognition of the rights of conscientious objectors in all countries.

Helped to set up the Justice for Rhodesia Campaign; the campaign against arms sales to South Africa; and Christian Concern for Southern Africa.

Involved with several initiatives in connection with Northern Ireland including a London (Camden)-Belfast scheme to raise funds for reconciliation projects and to educate the British public by bringing speakers over from different communities in Northern Ireland. Catholic and Methodist clergy were sent on a fact-finding tour of Northern Ireland and then travelled round England reporting on the situation there.

Served during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war as director of an emergency refugee hospital in Calcutta sponsored by the British relief charity War on Want.

Became chairperson of War on Want (1973) at the time when it launched the first Baby Foods campaign to highlight the health risks of commercial powdered milk promoted in Third World countries.

1974 became full time chaplain with Pax Christi's British section. Instrumental in setting up with other peace organisations the highly effective Campaign Against the Arms Trade which is still doing outstanding work today. Has persistently encouraged the development agencies to educate the public about links between arms trade and world poverty.

Also served on executive of International Pax Christi for 10 years and was international Vice-President in the 1970s.

Through Pax Christi he promoted Pope Paul VI's annual Peace Sunday in the churches from its inception in 1968. Met Homer Jack and attended the Nairobi Assembly of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. Subsequently established the British branch of WCRP.

Initiated in 1975 the Prisoners' Project which united organisations working for amnesty for prisoners of conscience and organisations working to improve conditions for other prisoners. This led to a Prisoners' Sunday in the church calendar and a prisoners' week which is still an annual event. From 1975-1995 he served as a Trustee of the Prisoner of Conscience Fund in Britain.

Invited by the Quaker Christian Fellowship Trust to visit Southern Africa in 1977, meeting community leaders and giving talks about the theory and practice of nonviolence. Subsequently promoted investment pressure by churches (including his own Archdiocese of Westminster) on British companies with the aim of achieving economic justice for workers in South Africa.

Worked in an inner-city London parish 1977-80, making his church a place of welcome for people of many nations. Chilean political refugees conducted a fast in the church to draw attention to the situation in their country. Started the One World Shop next door to the church as an education centre where people could find literature from justice and peace organisations as well as Traidcraft products.

1980s/1990s

In 1980 he became General Secretary of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He took a leading part as spokesperson on radio and tv for disarmament and peace throughout the Cold War years of the 1980s. At the time of his leadership the Campaign grew from 2,000 to 100,000 national members and from about 30 active local groups to nearly 1000. As part of this work he visited the USSR, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the US and many other countries. In 1982 he organised a large party to lobby in New York the UN Second Special Session on Disarmament.

In 1988 he undertook a peace walk of 1000 miles from Warsaw to Brussels (NATO) calling for a united peaceful nuclear-free Europe. Actively involved throughout the 1980s in the European Nuclear Disarmament Campaign.

From 1985-1992 he succeeded the late Sean MacBride as President of the International Peace Bureau. Membership consistently increased and the campaign to declare nuclear weapons (possession and use) illegal was promoted. Bruce Kent was an active supporter of the World Court Project, which was successful in getting the nuclear issue to the International Court in The Hague, and winning the 1996 Advisory Opinion affirming the illegality of nuclear weapons.

In the 1990s he served on the Executive of the United Nations Association and in that connection he established with others, a national forum called "Action for UN Renewal" to promote some of the ideas of the Global Governance Commission. He also completed a major programme of visits to about 150 secondary schools, speaking on international issues of peace and development.

In 1999 he was British co-ordinator for the Hague Appeal for Peace, a 10,000-strong international conference in The Hague, which initiated a number of major campaigns (e.g. against small arms, the use of child soldiers, and to promote peace education). In Delhi, in 2000, he addressed the first national meeting of the Indian anti-nuclear coalition.

2000-present

One of Bruce Kent’s initiatives is the Movement for the Abolition of War, inspired in the UK by the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace conference. The aim of MAW is to convince people that wars are not inevitable. Everyone, pacifist and non-pacifist alike, can take the steps necessary to make the nonviolent settlement of international disputes the norm and not the exception. With his active encouragement and fundraising MAW has produced two educational DVDs: War No More, which outlines those nonviolent options, and Conflict and Climate Change, which points out the connection – often overlooked - between those two issues.

Two other human rights issues have particularly occupied Bruce Kent. He became involved in the campaign for economic justice for pensioners and has been a frequent speaker at pensioners’ meetings.

As evident in the above summary, prisons have also been a consistent concern. In the 1970s he chaired an independent enquiry into the Hull prison riots and has campaigned on behalf of many individual prisoners, and not just those in prison for matters of politics or conscience. In 2005 he co-founded Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence, a small working group taking up the rights of prisoners who maintain their innocence and are trapped by the slow procedures of the justice system. Those detained without trial under ‘control orders’ in Britain have also been the focus of more recent work. Bruce continues to visit and write to individual prisoners who are referred to him.

The so-called ‘war on terror’ saw Bruce Kent on many platforms speaking out against resorting to military force and in favour of the United Nations, international law, and other nonviolent avenues for conflict resolution. Invitations often came from Muslim organisations, and he has taken part in multi-faith initiatives to challenge Islamophobia or religious intolerance of any kind, especially in the wake of the ‘7/7’ bombings in London. He frequently points out the parallels between the experience of Catholics persecuted in past centuries and the fomenting of suspicion about Muslims regardless of whether there is any evidence of criminal behaviour.

His work for global disarmament continues. Bruce Kent has toured towns and cities all over the United Kingdom, speaking about the abolition of all nuclear weapons, campaigning against plans to renew Britain’s Trident nuclear system, and promoting the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – which came into force in January 2021.

He remains an active member of his local Catholic church in London and a regular participant in local justice and peace activities.

In 2019 Bruce Kent was awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize by the International Peace Bureau. In 2021 the Archbishop of Canterbury awarded him, jointly with Valerie Flessati, the Lambeth Cross for Ecumenism.






Clarification about my retirement as a priest in 1987


On countless occasions I have been introduced at meetings or in articles with words drawn from Wikipedia which are inaccurate. I have tried to correct the Wikipedia page about me, but the inaccuracies have been restored. Most recently, in 2020, Wikipedia responded that I must produce third-party published reliable sources to verify what I say is true. This is of course impossible because this very personal matter concerns conversations between me and my then boss, the late Cardinal Hume.

Two particular statements in the Wikipedia biography - matters of fact, not opinion - are untrue.

I’m described as a ‘laicised Roman Catholic priest’.

I am not. I have never applied for laicisation, or been laicised, which involves an official Church process. When I resigned from active ministry in 1987 I used the term ‘retired’. Applying for laicisation involved conceding that that you should never have been a priest, or were not suited to it. I don’t believe that of myself. I remain a priest. And even though most RC priests have to be celibate, there are actually plenty of married Catholic priests, especially in Britain, since married former Anglican priests have been ordained into the RC Church.

The other inaccurate statement is this:

‘In 1987, Kent left the priesthood rather than comply with an instruction from the late Cardinal Basil Hume to desist from involvement in the 1987 UK general election in accordance with the canon law of the Catholic Church.’

I never did receive instructions from Cardinal Hume to desist from involvement in the 1987 election. Nor did he ask me to resign from my position with CND, though I knew he was being put under huge pressure to tell me to do that.

I was not forced. I was not sacked. I was not given an ultimatum. The decision was mine, made because of the tension I felt in my dual role: as a priest representing a Church where many of its leaders thought my position in CND was too political.

In my autobiography, Undiscovered Ends, published in 1992, I gave an account of all this, as follows:

The hullabaloo of 1983 only postponed conflict by a few years. In fact until the October of 1986. Then, with another election on the horizon, Julian Lewis of the Coalition [for Peace through Security], about which I have already said too much, opened a new campaign in the form of “An Open Letter to Cardinal Hume” in the conservative Salisbury Review. It was a direct challenge to the Cardinal to make up his mind about me. To let me go on as CND Chair (which I had become), could, according to Lewis, “only be construed as the exercise of bias in favour of the CND position”. I knew that the Lewis piece was only round one in another anti-Kent campaign which would rumble on during the pre-election months. I also knew that I could not cope with it. I had had enough of being prodded and dissected by every journalist and politician with half an hour to spare. If there was a problem for the Church it lay in the contrast between the official idea of what a priest ought to be and what a priest actually was in many parts of the world. Support for Solidarnosc in Poland was priestly. Support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua was not. To be Bishop of HM Forces was not political. To be CND Chairman was. My position was an impossible one. Many of my fellow Catholics, and other Christians, told me that what I was doing as a priest gave them hope, though I knew that most of my bishops did not think my work was priestly.

By December 1986 I had made up my mind to resign. One winter's night I went to see our Vicar General and almost had the feeling that I was expected. He was extremely kind, and so was the Cardinal when a brief final interview took place. Compromises were not suggested, I suppose on the good grounds that everyone knew that there were none to be made…

In my public retirement statement I said:

I no longer find it possible to cope with the strain resulting from the tensions between my pastoral role which means so much to me and what is thought to be an unacceptable political role. That strain can only increase as a General Election approaches ... I simply cannot continue in my present dual role. To do so is to force my superiors into an impossible situation since I cannot offer them the obedience expected.


That was the crux of the matter. I knew that if I had been ordered to leave CND I would have resigned rather than obey. It did not seem to be very fair to force people to give orders which in conscience I knew in advance I could not accept.

Undiscovered Ends (Harper Collins, 1992) pp204-205




Bruce Kent, April 2021


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