Saturday, 10 July 2010

"Three Birmingham Oratorians, champions of the unborn, are apparently silenced"

John Smeaton on 7.6.2010

James Preece of Catholic and Loving it has published a fascinating post today about the battle over Cardinal Newman's legacy. He writes about the mysterious disappearance from Birmingham Oratory (pictured) of Fr Dermot Fenlon, Fr Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry - three Oratorians who have been publicly opposing an interpretation of Newman as the patron of ‘conscientious’ dissent; and three Oratorians who have publicly opposed the sex and relationships education policies of the last Government and of the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales.

The National Association of Catholic Families informs us that Father Fenlon and Father Cleevely, and Brother Lewis have been ordered to three separate monasteries hundreds of miles apart, with no public explanation, and no word as to when they can be expected back.

These three Oratorians were, to my knowledge, responsible, for a powerful critique of The Tablet's placing of "Newman and conscience in the company of Tony Blair", calling it "a provocative juxtaposition".

The official website of Birmingham Oratory said last October:
"Mr Blair’s conduct as a Member of Parliament and Prime Minister is a matter of public record. There can be no question that during his Parliamentary career, before his reception into the Catholic Church, he advocated and voted for legislation which, among other things, permitted destructive experimentation and other lethal attacks upon human beings at their most vulnerable, and which significantly furthered cultural hostility towards the Sacrament of Matrimony, family life and the proper care of children in need.

"Since becoming a Catholic, Mr Blair has refused every invitation to disown and repent of these things. Although they are simply incompatible with the Catholic Faith and were pursued by him, before he was a Catholic, with every appearance of conviction, Mr Blair has refused since entering the Church to say whether in these respects he has undergone a change of mind and heart. In refusing to clarify his position, he implies that he still believes that they were the right things to do.

"If this implication is correct, some commentators, including Catholics, have sought to justify it by saying that Mr Blair’s silence is because his support for abortion, embryo experimentation, civil partnerships and gay adoption has always been for him, and remains now, a matter of conscience. Now this is the danger in The Tablet’s association of Newman and conscience with the case of Tony Blair. If as a Catholic Mr Blair thinks that his conscience directs him to support such positions, to invoke Newman in defence of his stance would be a travesty. For Newman, no Catholic can be in good conscience in supporting the positions Mr Blair espoused. The impossibility of conscience, enlightened by Faith, justifying adherence to evil is one of the most important of Newman’s lessons for our times."
In this connection, I don't know if there's any truth in the Telegraph's report that Labour’s favourite events management company has been employed by the Church along with a former aide to Tony Blair to help in organizing Pope Benedict's visit to Britain in September, a visit which includes the beatification of Cardinal Newman. And, of course, even if the Telegraph report is true, this would not lead to the inevitable conclusion that there's a connection between the disappearance of the three Oratorians and their powerful dismissal of The Tablet’s association of Newman and conscience with the case of Tony Blair.

However, I understand it was these three Oratorians who also set out so eloquently the case against the Catholic Education Service's support (and, one might add, Bishop McMahon's support and Archbishop Vincent Nichols's support) for the Labour government's plans to make sex and relationships education compulsory in all State schools in England between the ages of five and sixteen.

It's worth recalling what was said in the Birmingham Oratory newsletter last March:
"Those in our society committed to a radical anti-Catholic agenda, as well as many 'ordinary' people with moral opinions formed more or less unconsciously by anti-Catholic forces, greeted the Government's recent 'concessions' regarding school-based sex education ('Amendment 70') as a climb-down, cynically designed to appease the Church and attract Catholic votes in the General Election. Others, predictably, have hailed the Amendment as a victory for the Church, enabling Catholic schools to continue to uphold her teachings in the sensitive and profoundly important area of human relationships and sexuality.

"Both sides are mistaken. On none of the key issues was there a Government 'climb-down', and in none of them any kind of 'victory' for the Church. Anti-Catholic forces have nothing to fear from Amendment 70. The Catholic Church in England and Wales, by contrast, faces what John Smeaton, the Director of The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, has rightly called 'arguably the greatest advance in the culture of death...since the passage of the Abortion Act in 1967.'

"What Amendment 70 says is that a Catholic school may teach sex education 'in a way that reflects the school's religious character.' It is easy to see why many on both sides of the debate have been taken in. Surely 'in accordance with its religious character' means in accordance with the teaching of the Church?

"But that is not what it means. 'In accordance with its religious character' means only that a Catholic school may convey Church teaching in addition to the 'facts' about sex and sexuality decided upon by the Government.

"And what are these 'facts' which Catholic schools must convey? Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, has been unambiguous. The 'facts' (in Mr Balls' own words) include 'how to access contraception [and] how to use contraception'; they include '[explaining] civil partnership' in a way which shows 'that there are different views on homosexuality' and which therefore doesn't 'teach homophobia'; and they include 'a balanced view on abortion, [giving] both sides of the argument, and [explaining] how to access an abortion.'

"We need to be absolutely clear. Although Catholic schools will be able to teach, if they choose, that contraception, homosexuality and abortion are wrong, they will also have to teach that there are different views on these subjects, what these views are and why they are held, explain to their pupils what a civil partnership is, and explain how to use contraception and where to 'access' it, and how and where to 'access' an abortion.

"So (under Amendment 70) the situation of Catholic schools, with regard to contraception, homosexuality and abortion, is as it would be if the Government were to say that, of course, schools can teach that racism is morally wrong; but were then to legislate that (in the interests of conveying a 'balanced' account of 'the 'facts') schools also had to explain why racism can be thought morally acceptable, and inform children about where they can 'access' racist literature, attend racist meetings, join a racist political party and how to put racism into practice on the streets.

"Could any teacher convinced that racism is morally wrong be induced to deliver such a curriculum? Why would he or she want even to try? Government imposition of such a curriculum would demand conscientious civil disobedience. And yet a precisely analogous imposition is being made upon Catholic teachers in the area of sex and relationships.

"What's the difference? Only this: that whereas the vast majority (rightly) believe that racism is wrong (or for that matter paedophilia, or torture, or cruelty to animals – the argument is the same, whichever near-unanimous conviction you chose), only the Catholic Church also teaches, clearly and consistently, the wrongness of contraception, homosexuality and abortion. What is at stake is her right, in her own schools, to continue to do so, free from State censorship and control.

"If Amendment 70 really is an attempt to win the Catholic vote, Catholics will soon have an opportunity, and indeed a duty, to demonstrate that it has failed."
To put it bluntly: Are the three Birmingham Oratorians being silenced because of their principled opposition to the scandalous position which has been adopted by the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales on sex and relationships education - particularly at a time of unprecedented focus on the Birmingham Oratory, the spiritual home of Cardinal Newman and his impending beatification during Pope Benedict's visit to Britain in September?

Dr Tom Ward, the president of the National Association of Catholic Families, informs me that parishioners of Birmingham Oratory and members of the NACF have written to Father Richard Duffield, current Provost of the Birmingham Oratory. They have asked whether Father Dermot Fenlon, Father Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry will be returning to the Birmingham Oratory or not. This question was put unequivocally and an unequivocal answer was requested.

I hear that Fr Duffield "assumes" that the two priests and the brother concerned will be returning to the Oratory, but that the matter is not in his hands. It is being dealt with by the Father Visitor and his delegate who in their turn are acting as officials of the Congregation for Religious in Rome. Tom tells me that parishioners will now be asking Father Duffield to seek clarification and an unequivocal answer to the question from whatever sources are necessary. The parishioners say:
"In the run up to the Beautification of Cardinal Newman, the parishioners of the Birmingham Oratory need all the spiritual support they can get and a swift end to the damaging insinuations against three good and holy men which will continue as long as their mysterious disappearance remains completely unaccounted for. Those of us who are parents are in a particularly difficult position as we strive to protect our children from what is a steadily increasing scandal in the Catholic Church in the British Isles. Father Dermot Fenlon, Father Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry must be returned to us and to our families forthwith: we believe they are innocent of any wrong doing."
The scandal of the Catholic bishops' betrayal of Catholic families in the matter of sex and relationships education - and in particular the access being facilitated for children in schools to abortion and birth control services, without parental knowledge or consent - is very great indeed. The apparent silencing of these three Oratorians of Cardinal Newman's Birmingham Oratory - so outspoken in defence of life and in defence of our families - seems to me to stink to high heaven.