Fr Richard Duffield
The following items are tagged Fr Richard Duffield
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...
Bad news for anybody who was thinking they might be able to keep this whole business about the Birmingham Three swept under the carpet.
The situation is now very definitely uncontainable.
Ruth Dudley Edwards (Irish Journalist) has written about the Birmingham Three in Standpoint magazine. She writes...
News from the Birmingham Oratory, which next month the pope will visit on September 19th, the day he beatifies Cardinal Newman. Newman's old home is now mired in a deepening scandal: this started with the ex-Provost having a 'chaste but intense' relationship with a young man and went on to see three of its tiny community banished to separate monasteries. These three — two priests and a brother — have become known as the ‘Birmingham Three', as a sense of injustice mounts about their fate.
I'll be writing in the next issue venomously about the scandalous way in which these men have been treated, and of the apparent inability of the Catholic Church to learn the downside of secrecy and authoritarianism. But for now I'm just putting it on the record that, in a lengthy interview with me, the ubiquitous Jack Valero of Opus Dei, spokesman for the Newman canonisation cause and the Birmingham Oratory, has confirmed unequivocally that the Three are entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever, including, specifically, sexual misdemeanours or homophobia.
The Birmingham Three have been gagged so cannot defend any speculation about them. And speculation there has been. Until now, the main official communication from the Oratory has been a comment that it was 'an internal matter': the laity were enjoined to stop asking questions. But those who know that the punishment of the Three exceeds that of your average clerical child-molester have been speculating all over the religious blogosphere. Are they homosexual? Homophobic? Are they fanatical fundamentalists? Or victims of a political archbishop who will allow Newman to become a gay icon? Since one of the three is my dear old friend Father Dermot Fenlon, late of Gonville and Caius, this atheist has been following events and speculation closely. Quite apart from anything else, events cast an extraordinary light on institutional cruelty.
You can bully a blogger with guilt trips about how this sort of writing could embarrass the Pope and hurt the Church (because covering up injustice doesn't hurt the Church at all) but you're not going to guilt trip an atheist writer and standpoint magazine aren't going to be bothered if you won't sell it at the back of your churches.
Of course, they could have let the three back months ago... then none of this would have ever happened.
h/t John Smeaton
Blogged by James Preece 2 Years ago...
I'm not entirely sure what Fr Duffield thought I would do when he refused to reply to my emails for two weeks. Maybe he hoped I would just go away or something.
It's strange because when I appeared on the local BBC radio station he managed to phone me the same day so let's not have any of that "maybe he's just busy" nonsense.
When I appeared on the radio Jack Valero responded live on air and said several things that I now know are not true. Maybe Jack was flat out lying but lets be nice and assume he was just badly informed.
You might have thought Fr Richard Duffield the provost of Birmingham Oratory would be keen to make sure that any falsehoods broadcast to thousands of people across the West Midlands would be put right as soon as possible.
Fr Duffield was a bit ambiguous on the phone and then asked that our conversation be kept off the record. Okay. But what Valero said on the radio wasn't off the record and needed clearing up.
So I emailed Fr Duffield...
1st July 2010
On the record and in writing, can you confirm for me which of the following phrases that Jack Valero said on the radio are true:
- That the three "asked to go away and pray for a while"
- "they are away now, they will come back"
- "We are working together, so there's no falling out and there's no casting away it's just a time away to cool down"
- "they can come back soon and we can continue as normal"
- "there's no indication they've done something wrong, they've been punished or anything. these words are wrong they give the wrong impression"
Five days later I sent an email asking if he might be responding to me soon. After I had been waiting a week I sent my question again. I've now asked him three times.
So why the hesitation to respond?
Because none of those phrases from Valero are true. The three didn't ask to go away they were sent. There is no certainty they will come back and any talk of them coming back "soon" is outrageous when the Oratory refuse to confirm whether they will be coming back at all.
I'm disappointed because I quite like Fr Duffield. He seems like a nice man who finds himself in a difficult situation, but apparently he's also the sort of man who would rather let falsehoods stand than admit that the Oratory spokesman made a mistake.
When I have said that the three are outspoken but those who remain are a bit more inclined towards silence this is exactly the sort of thing I am talking about.
Three good men are in exile and Fr Richard Duffield is burying his head in the sand.