Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Birmingham Three: A Second Open Letter

Catholic and loving it – James Preece on 28.7.2010

You can read this letter elsewhere such as CF News and on Damian Thompson's blog (more on that in a moment) but I think it's worth reproducing it here because it gives a good summary of where things stand...

An Open Letter to Father Felix Selden CO, Delegate of the Apostolic See for the Confederation of the Oratory, from parishioners of the Birmingham Oratory and members of the National Association of Catholic families.

We are grateful to Father Felix Selden for having had the courtesy to reply to our letter of 1st July, in which we enquired about the return of Father Dermot Fenlon, Father Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry to the Birmingham Oratory.

Unfortunately none of our questions were answered. His argument appears to be that as mere lay people, we have no right to know what is going on at the Birmingham Oratory. However we are parents, chosen by God to discharge the duty of protecting vulnerable young people in a society at war with our values. We have seen the inexplicable removal of two priests and a brother who have exerted themselves heroically in the defence of our Catholic families. Consequently, our family and others are now left much more vulnerable. I am afraid that is very much our business and indeed intimately affects our families: we have every right to a coherent explanation of what is going on, and an assurance that these priests and brother will be returned to their ministry with us forthwith.

Father Selden expresses concern that lay people are protesting the conduct of the Apostolic Visitation and suggests that this is creating scandal “and might dangerously harm the Church and the Oratory of Birmingham”. It is very difficult to read this in any other way than as a veiled threat. Is there a threat here of direct action against the lay protestors, or indirect action against the two priests and brother concerned if the lay people cannot be silenced? We are bound to point out that the scandal was absolutely not of our own making. We will not easily forget the look of bewilderment on our children’s faces when they heard from the pulpit the announcement of the expulsion of these three holy men with no explanation, and the difficult task we have (and continue to have) in trying to mitigate the enormous scandal that has been done to these little ones. There is a very ready remedy: bring back those of our good pastors who are innocent of any wrong doing (as we have been assured is the case with these three).

No threat will convince us as parents to remain silent: the threat from the immoral culture all around us, which in many sad cases has infiltrated the Catholic Church even to the extent of compromising some of her pastors, is far more deadly to us than anything that might be done to silence us. We love the Catholic Church very much but cannot elevate Church reputation and image above our children’s moral safety. Our children’s very souls are at stake and we will not be silence.
We ask once again: are these three holy men going to be returned to Cardinal Newman’s Oratory where they belong or not? If they are to return, when will that be?

It's not only parishioners of the Birmingham Oratory who are concerned. Damian Thompson has got himself involved as well, he writes...

If these Birmingham Oratorians are innocent of wrongdoing, should they really be excluded from the greatest moment in the history of their Congregation?
I’ve just spoken to a senior (and non-partisan) lay Catholic who felt that this apparent injustice should be highlighted despite the dangers of rocking the boat so soon before the papal visit.

Last (but by no means least) Splintered Sunrise has this to say...
..notwithstanding the approaching papal visit and the centrality of the Oratory to it, this boil has been festering for so long that it needs to be lanced. And so it does – one would hope that at some point even the most obscurantist of Catholic hierarchs would realise that “let’s keep this quiet lest we rock the boat” is not a winning strategy these days.

Anyway, some parishioners have got so frustrated at the Oratory’s stonewalling that they’ve issued an open letter on the subject. And this serves the worthwhile purpose of dragging the matter further into the spotlight, where the Oratorian bigwigs would rather it was not. At this point, they can either rescind the punishment or give a clear explanation of why the punishment was imposed in the first place, preferably both. What is not sustainable, especially with the Oratory in the spotlight coming up to B16′s visit, is to sing dumb and let the rumour mill go into overtime. As Max Clifford will tell you, if you don’t control the story then somebody else will.

My thanks to Damian and Splintered Sunrise for helping to keep these events in the public eye. The day the three drop in to obscurity is the day they can give up hope of ever returning home.