Blogged by James Preece 1 Year ago...
I don't know how many of you are new to events at the Birmingham Oratory in the run up to the Papal visit but it's been a while and it might help if I run through it all again.
It was back in May 2010 that The Tablet first carried the news that three Oratorians had been told to “spend time in prayer for an indefinite period by Fr Felix Selden, an apostolic visitor to the Oratory Congregation”. If the Tablet had stopped there that might have been the end of it - such things are an internal matter and helps nobody to speculate on blogs.
Except in this case it wasn't an internal matter, it ceased to be an internal matter when the spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory picked up the phone to The Tablet and named names. However much he might bleat now about privacy, it was the Birmingham Oratory spokesman and not a blogger who made it a matter of pubic record that Fr Philip Cleevely, Fr Dermot Fenlon and Brother Lewis Berry had been “ordered to go on retreat” by Fr Felix Selden. This is the ecclesiastical equivalent of announcing that somebody has been permanently suspended from work - a very public stain on the reputation of these three men and one against which they were entirely unable to defend themselves.
As the weeks turned in to months some suggested that whatever the three had done to deserve their exile, it must have been pretty serious. Rumours of bullying and possible sexual misconduct began to surface. Friends of the three men were so distressed at the way in which their reputations were being “trashed” that they began to campaign publicly that the three were known to be good holy men a blog was started and an open letter was sent to Fr Felix Selden.
To suggest that these friends and wellwishers were guilty of gossip is outrageous. It was gossip and rumour that they were seeking to dispel.
It was about this time that BBC West Midlands became interested and Oratory spokesman Jack Valero was quick to play things down... “it's just a time away to cool down” he said “they can come back soon and we can continue as normal”. Only a few weeks later Jack had changed his tune telling Radio Ulster that the three “are going to come back at some point, we don't know, it's not going to be soon”. This is the sort of transparency most people would associate with a brick wall.
To their credit, the Oratory did defend the three men and Ruth Dudley Edwards reported that Jack Valero had “confirmed unequivocally that the Three are entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever”. Of course, this only begs the question – if they have done nothing wrong, why are they away? Why can they not come back? This soon became the central mystery of the Birmingham Three. Three men, declared innocent by an official spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory yet exiled from their home for months and looking increasingly likely to miss the beatification of their founder. Why had they been sent away in the first place?
More questions began to be asked, like why is the press officer for Opus Dei speaking for the Birmingham Oratory? Things didn't get any less mysterious when it turned out that while Mr Valero is officially speaking for the Oratory he is actually being paid to do so by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and reports to Archbishop Nichol's press secretary. Yet more questions were raised about the role of the mysterious Fr Gareth/Sebastian Jones...
Pressure was mounting, blog entries about The Birmingham Three were getting hits from Rome, I had been on the Radio and Ruth Dudley Edwards was writing in Standpoint magazine and had even got the story on TV. The same questions were repeatedly asked: If the three have done nothing wrong, why can't they come home?
Something had to be done and something was, I can't say exactly how much pressure Brother Lewis Berry was under when he agreed to spend next year at an Oratory in South Africa but it's very hard imagine he did so of his own free will. The youngest of the three had the most to lose and with his ordination hanging in the balance the press release in his name had all the credibility of a forced confession. Fr Philip Cleevely issued a remarkably similar press release about how happy he is to be spending the next year in Toronto. It would not be long until the men who Jack Valero said would be “back soon” announced plans to remain abroad permanently.
Which leaves Fr Dermot Fenlon, the last of the three. There has been no press release from Fr Fenlon, no statement that he is happy about being sent away from his home of twenty years at a days notice despite being 68 years of age. So Fr Fenlon has been well and truly stamped on. According to a report in the Catholic Herald Fr Fenlon is being “forcibly exclaustrated” for a period of five years. In the article Simon Caldwell writes that “Under the Code of Canon Law, a priest cannot be exclaustrated for more than three years unless there is a “grave reason” yet Fr Fenlon has officially done nothing wrong. Such a prolonged period must have “either the direct approval of either the Holy See or the local bishop, who, in the case of Fr Fenlon, is Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham”.
And so the questions remain: If there has been no injustice, why not let the three speak to journalists and tell everbody how happy they are with the situation? If the three have done nothing wrong, why couldn't they be present for the beatification?
More than a year later - why is Fr Dermot Fenlon still in exile?
Blogged by James Preece 2 Years ago...
A couple of days ago I was contacted by a fellow from BBC West Midlands Radio who wanted to know if I would be willing to give the story on why the Birmingham 3 have been sent away.
This morning I appeared opposite Jack Valero who gave the usual nonsense about it being an internal matter - you know, because Catholic parishes are just like McDonalds and the way they treat their "staff" is not your concern.
Then there's this thing about the three needing time "to recover" - that's a new one.
Recover from what?
The simple fact is that if these three men have been sent away over internal disputes, seven weeks should be more than enough time to sort things out and the excuse is wearing thin.
Still, I'm pretty sure I heard Jack say that this is not permanent and the three will be coming back. That's good news - unless it's a lie.
Of course, he didn't say when.
You can listen to it on iPlayer here until 7th June. My part begins at 1hr 35min ish.
Blogged by James Preece 2 Years ago...
This post also online at popebenedictvisit.co.uk the unofficial website of the Papal Visit.
Ever played capture the flag? It's a great game. Two teams attempt to capture the opposing team's flag while trying not to lose their own. There's a lot of running, dodging and sneaking. If you play too defensively then you have no chance of catching the other team's flag, but if you all go running after the other team's flag then you will probably lose your own. The key to winning is good teamwork, strategy, a bit of misdirection and somebody who can run really fast.
The Catholic Church in England and Wales is currently engaged in an international game of capture the flag of epic proportions.
Cardinal John Henry Newman is the flag.
For one side, Cardinal Newman is the champion of Catholic tradition. His view of the development of Christian doctrine stands hand in hand with Pope Benedict's vision of a Hermeneutic of Continuity. A single continuous Church the past. For this side, the Beatification of Newman is a rallying cry, a call to arms, an opportunity for renewal and evangelisation. The visit of Pope Benedict to the United Kingdom will show young Catholics a world beyond the stodgy Bishops Conference of England and Wales and give the Catholic population the confidence to fight encroaching secularism.
For the other side, Cardinal Newman is the first gay saint. He is a champion of conscience and doing your own thing. His views on the development of Christian doctrine show that the Church can and should change with the times. For this side, the beatification of Newman is an opportunity to promote the idea that religious dogma is transient and to highlight the hypocrisy of those who would call homosexual acts sinful while beatifying a man who was gay himself. It is a victory for modern progressive thought, for compromise and inclusivity, it is another stride towards an open all inclusive Church where anybody can join and nobody has to believe anything (except inclusivity).
It is not difficult to know which side is right. Newman was no more a homosexual because he loved his close friend than I am a pedophile because I love my daughter. It may surprise some of you to discover this, but it is actually possible to love somebody very dearly without wanting to have sex with them. Newman's vision of the development of Christian doctrine wasn't one of a Church jumping around from one view to the next with the spirit of the age, it was one of a Church developing like a building develops - each layer of bricks on top of and supported by the one below.
Unfortunately, unless you have been in a cave for the last few years you will not have much difficulty guessing who is on which side.
When the head of Marriage Care said that it made no difference to Children whether their parents were married or not he got no opposition from Archbishop Nichols because Archbishop Nichols is quite obviously on the let's have an open Church where anybody can join and nobody has to believe anything side. So is Cardinal Cormac. It's not just people inside the Church, there are plenty of other people keen for a Catholic Church which is compatible with all the latest New Labour ideals. Like Tony Blair who joined the Church so that he could, like his wife, work to change it from the inside...
Most of you will know that this is not an isolated incident, it is merely the latest skirmish in a war that has raged down the centuries.
In this particular skirmish we are vastly outnumbered and the other side are playing dirty.
Three of our guys just got put out of the game.
You see, while the Bishop's Conference were very carefully not saying anything because that's pretty much all they had to do in order to let the whole thing get taken over by secularists, an obstacle lay in their path. At some point in the visit all eyes were going to be laid on the Birmingham Oratory. The religious community that Newman himself founded. The men of that Oratory were going to have an opportunity to speak quite publicly and they were on our side.
I even got an email from one of them last year - Brother Lewis Berry, asking me to help him promote the Newman Cause website. He spoke quite frankly saying "we'll appreciate whenever you can post on our things, as it's important to promote an authentic interpretation of Newman, especially when there are other interpretations about".
Unfortunately, when you are three humble holy men standing in the path of Archbishop Nichols and his plan for an all encompassing Church where anybody and everybody can believe whatever they like (Terry Prendergast for example) then you tend to get squashed. I have a strong suspicion that the people who said "James Preece? Don't let him near Catholic Voices" are the same people as said "We need to do something about those people at the Birmingham Oratory".
So there was a visitation. The Oratory were leaned on internationally and a guy from Vienna was sent over with instructions to clear out anybody who might rock the boat and three holy men were "ordered to go on retreat – to monasteries hundreds of miles apart – and pray". Jack Valero was sent in by the Bishop's Conference to take over as media spokesman. He's now operating for the Bishops and controlling the public narrative on the Papal visit via Catholic Voices and the Oratory. I like Jack and I think he's a good guy but I also think he's incredibly loyal and would think it the right think to support the Bishop's Conference, even if he thought they were wrong on this one.
So that leaves us with two things we must do. First, we need to keep hammering on about the three exiled brothers until they are returned. They are good and holy men and sending them away to pray indefinitely with no explanation is a terribly slight on their characters. It's the ecclesiastical equivalent of accusing them of rape. Jack Valero told me by email that "the reason no further explanation has been given is that the matters involved are private and do not involve any wrong-doing" yet one has to wonder, if there is no wrong-doing, why send three men away to separate monasteries and instruct them to maintain secrecy?
Of course, we know that there was wrong doing. What these men did wrong was to stand up for an authentic interpretation of Newman which is why the second thing we need to do is this: We need to promote the authentic interpretation as much as possible. We need to tell anybody and everybody who will listen that Newman is not the first gay saint and a champion of progressive thought but a man who believed that the Christian beliefs of today must be firmly rooted in the Christian beliefs of yesterday.
Oh, and pray. Because this is going to get dirtier and at some point they are going to make their play against Pope Benedict himself.