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Bruce Kent often seemed Britain's most militant pacifist, though he would probably prefer to be called a vigorous campaigner in the peace movement. He made his mark as secretary and then chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. If the test of pressure-group leadership is to secure prominence, inviting angry criticism without incurring derision, Bruce Kent passed with some distinction.

He also almost invited (and frequently received) the hackeyed description of 'turbulent priest', for his controversial public eminence clearly displeased the English Roman Catholic hierarchy long before the public break and his resignation from the priesthood, followed a year later by marriage. Kent had moved a long way from his role as an influential staff officer favoured by the high ecclesiastical command. The book suggests, however, that he incurred the displeasure of Cardinal Heenan on practical matters long before any conflict on matters of principle with Cardinal Hume. There was a misunderstanding at a party in Moscow and awkwardness over somebody's anti-Irish joke in India. Such at least were symptoms of the trouble. But after Kent's two years as the Cardinal's principal secretary he had the dubious asset (when he became a controversial figure) of the foreign-sounding title of 'Monsignor'.

This autobiography adds a good deal to the public perception of a strong personality, but in unexpected ways and not mainly in the areas that might seem most important. It is a lively book about the man, but it throws only a little dull light on the movement. Historians of CND will find it as valuable as an anthology of votes of thanks or a precis of a decade's annual reports. There is little fresh reflection on times past. The risks of nuclear disaster and the causes of nasty and ever-more-thriving little wars tend to be discussed in slogans. The only internal difficulty given any prominence is a successful defence against Trotskyists, though there are hints that even CND found the ladies of Greenham Common hard going. There is not much about orthodox Communists or Soviet manipulation of large sectors of the 'peace movement'.

Yet the reader emerges from the book better informed and often surprisingly well entertained, whether about a mixed-marriage family background, Stonyhurst and its Jesuit masters, National Service, Oxford, the hazards of inviting Evelyn Waugh even to Roman Catholic undergraduate occasions, seminary life, or the pastoral complexities of being a university chaplain in a secular age. There are also some cautiously worded but significant comments on strains in the priestly vocation. Mr. Kent admits to having fallen in love long before the days of his prominence, but he does not say with whom.

He now sits, perhaps none too comfortably, in a pew on the left of the Labour Party and still attends Mass, though not as a communicant and apparently unsure of his 'canonical status'. He is also president of an International Peace Bureau.
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Author:Kernohan, R.D.
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:478
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