An extraordinary Jesuit archbishop

Archbishop Thomas Roberts, S.J., an English Jesuit bishop of Bombay [Mumbai], India, died on February 28, 1976. He had resigned from his see in 1950  in order to allow a native of India to become archbishop.

Archbishop Roberts was also a notable advocate of peace and opponent of nuclear weapons. His written intervention at the Second Vatican Council on conscientious objection to war is notable:

“What we must do here [at the Second Vatican Council] is to give clear testimony that the Church affirms the right of the individual conscience to refuse unjust military service and assure those of the Faithful, who bear such witness, that they will always have her full support. Once this has been done, martyrs like [Franz] Jägerstatter will never again have to feel that they take their stand alone.  . . . Perhaps the major scandal of Christianity for too many centuries now has been precisely that almost every war has allowed itself to become the moral arms of its own government, even in war later recognized as palpably unjust. Let us break with this tragic past by making a clear and unambiguous affirmation of the right and obligation of each Christian to obey the voice of his or her informed conscience before and during a time of war.”

The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, did include a recognition of the right of conscientious objection to war and in 2007 Franz Jägerstëtter, killed for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army, was declared a blessed.

Archbishop Roberts was outspoken and, it seems, quite the character with a quirky sense of humor. I once read, in The Catholic Worker I think, about the time an obsequious Catholic met Archbishop Roberts and wanted to kiss his ring – a practice common before Vatican II. Noticing that the bishop wasn’t wearing the ring, the man asked the bishop where his ring was. “In my back pocket,” remarked Archbishop Roberts.


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