Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Brother Lewis Berry speaks on Birmingham Three Reports

Independent Catholic News - 30.8.2010

In the wake of a number of press and blog reports concerning the movements of three members of the Birmingham Oratory, Brother Lewis Berry has issued the following statement today:

'I would like to dissociate myself completely from recent reporting which has made criticisms of the exercise of legitimate authority, and made uncharitable and even defamatory statements about those involved in the present Visitation of the Birmingham Oratory. I fervently ask that now such attacks come to an end.
'I welcome the opportunity of spending time at the Oratory of Port Elizabeth in South Africa, and I am looking forward to arriving there.
'I wish above all that the Beatification of John Henry Newman by Pope Benedict may be a sign of the unity of the Church in communion with the Holy Father and the bishops.'

Brother Lewis Berry

Monday, 30 August 2010

Little Oratory Brothers silenced.

Catholic & Loving It! blog - Lovingit Locums - 30.8.2010

Over at the Little Oratory's blog there has been an 'appeal for circumspection' in relation to the situation at the Birmingham Oratory.

The 'Long Suffering Rector' says:

"As we are all only too well aware, the situation in the Birmingham Oratory is far from happy, and has given rise to a great deal of comment and speculation in the press.

It would be most unhelpful were any Brother of the Little Oratory in London to be seen to be making public or semi-public statements on this matter.

We must refrain from any comment when asked by outsiders, other than to say that it is an internal matter for the Birmingham House, and must be careful not to discuss this situation amongst ourselves where there is the possibility of our being overheard. We must also refrain from entering the fray of comments in the blogosphere.

We should be praying - not indulging in conjecture and gossip."

Let's see how long it takes for someone to mention Godwin's Law...

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Oratory Three - where do we go from here?

Catholic & Loving it! Blog - Lovingit Locums - 27.8.2010

With Br Lewis Berry off to South Africa and Fr Philip Cleevely in communication with Jack Valero (according to Jack’s interview with William Crawley), when can we expect a statement from them?

A statement of some type must be in the offing, if only to quash speculation, and its contents will perhaps be along the following lines:

My decision to make this statement has not been influenced or swayed by any other party.

Whilst an Oratorian’s home is his home for life, I am delighted to announce that I shall be off for pastures new to pursue my vocation. This is notwithstanding my having rather liked being at the Birmingham Oratory and the Pope being about to visit. This decision has been mine alone and I have not been subjected to any pressure at all in reaching it.

I would like to thank Fr Felix Selden, Fr Ignatius Harrison, Fr Gareth Jones and Mr Jack Valero for having handled what have been difficult times at the Birmingham Oratory with such sensitivity, ability and pastoral care. Their control of the media in preventing speculation over absolutely nothing has been exemplary.

Whilst there may have been speculation by third parties that I have been subject to abuse of canon law process, I can state categorically that that has not been the case and that every care and attention was taken by Fr Felix Selden and others to ensure my physical and spiritual wellbeing at all times.

Although I am grateful for people having taken such an interest in me, it was unnecessary. The theories of one type or another that I understand have been circulating have all been without truth and I ask that they cease as such speculation is damaging to the Church and hierarchy at this momentous time.

Any questions?

Er sorry……Sorry I don’t think I can answer that question.

Or that one.

Or that one.

Or that one. My, is that the time? How it passes. Anyway, thanks all for coming and what lovely weather we’re having. Got to go now……Bye…..

We still won’t believe it.

And what of Fr Dermot Fenlon? Will he make a statement confirming everything is absolutely ticketyboo and that all’s right with the world or will he be given the push into the Oratorian equivalent of outer space? Only time will tell….

The Birmingham Three protests harm the Church

The Catholic Herald - Jack Valero - 27.8.2010

The Campaign to 'free' three Oratorians is based on bizarre conspiracy theories, says Jack Valero.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Videoclip: ITV Central News - 18:00 on 24.8.2010

Soundclip: BBC Radio Ulster: Sunday Sequence

BBC Radio Ulster: Sunday Sequence - 08.30 on 22.8.2010

Transcript from BBc Radio Ulster: Sunday Sequence

Transcript: “The Birmingham Three”, Sunday Sequence, BBC Radio Ulster, 08:30, 22.8.2010

Interviewer: William Crawley (WC)
Ruth Dudley Edwards (RDE), journalist and friend of Fr Dermot Fenlon
Jack Valero (JV), spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory

WC: The pastoral centrepiece of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain next month, will be the
beatification of John Henry Newman. Afterwards the Pope will make a private visit to the
Oratory in Birmingham, founded by Newman. He’ll meet members of the Oratory
community, but not all of them. Because 3 Oratorians; two priests and a brother have been
ordered to leave Birmingham and to spend time in prayer, many hundreds of miles apart,
apparently indefinitely and with no public explanation being given for their exile. There is
now a “Free the Birmingham Three” campaign who have launched their own website which
includes a ticking clock, counting the period of their exile in days, hours, minutes and
seconds. Yesterday marked the 100th day since the three left Birmingham. Their case has been
taken up by the journalist and crime fiction writer Ruth Dudley Edwards. She joins me now
along with the spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory Jack Valero. Good morning to you

RDE and JV: Good morning William.

WC: Ruth, why have you become involved in this case?

RDE: Because I have known Dermot Fenlon, who is one of the priests who has been exiled,
for fifty years. We met when I was sixteen and he was eighteen and at university he was
really a big brother to me and we were very close in Dublin UCD and in Cambridge and have
always remained friends despite going in dramatically different directions. You know, he has
lived with the fact that I am an atheist who has divorces and I have lived with the fact that he
has become a very orthodox priest but there is a great residue of affection, so I was absolutely
staggered when somebody showed me an item in the Tablet, 22nd May, that three members of
the Birmingham Oratory had been ordered to go on retreat after disagreements with the rest
of the community, and it mentioned Fr Philip Cleevely, Fr Dermot Fenlon and Brother Lewis
Berry. And as you say they were told to spend time in prayer for an indefinite period. […]
Friends wanted to know that had happened, his parishioners wanted to know what had
happened. Fr Philip and Dermot I know are very much loved priests, that became very clear
early on […] I am a friend as well as a journalist and what I was struck by, was the injustice
of this because it became clear that I couldn’t ask Dermot what had happened to him, because
he wasn’t allowed to speak. The three of them were told they were not allowed to speak about
what had happened to them. So they couldn’t defend themselves in public. So my sixty-eight
year old friend had been thrown out of his house and his reputation was being trashed in the
blogosphere. The Tablet article had given the impression that something very odd was
happening there. The Times picked it up and talked about the bone of contention being the
fact that the provost had had a close but chaste relationship with a young man. And then there
was talk about making Newman a gay icon. I read hundreds, I read thousands of posts on
various blogs and really I was more confused than ever-

WC: Jack Valero is also listening Ruth, let’s see if we can make sense of what actually
happened in this case and to these three Oratorians. Jack Valero, an injustice Ruth Dudley
Edward says?

JV: Yes I mean in fact what she said or you said that there was no public information. From
the very beginning we said that this was an internal matter relating to disciplinary matters of
the community and also clarify for their reputations that none of the three were guilty of any
sexual misconduct whenever any allegations against them on that front or anything like that.
But by disciplinary matters, you know, I meant things like pride, anger, disobedience,
disunity, nastiness, dissention, the breakdown of charity, that kind of thing. That’s why they
asked for privacy to deal with it because these are things private to people and could impinge
on how their character are seen

WC: So are you saying that these three men have been ordered into prayer and silence
because of nastiness, disunity and pride?

JV: Because of, well, when the visitation started in April 2009 and the visitor Fr Selden
arrived, he found the community at Birmingham disintegrating. Its very existence was
actually threatened you know, this, this is a man that is not an autocrat as it has been said in
the papers or in the blog, this is a man who went in there and spent a year from April 2009 to
April 2010, trying to help them to sort themselves out privately because these were private
dissentions within the community. And when this wasn’t working, he said well I need to do
something, this isn’t working, this community is in danger. So he thought well the answer is
to ask some to be absent from this community for a while. But this “Free the Birmingham
three campaign” what, what is the meaning of this, these three men are not prisoners, they
can come and go as they please, they can do pastoral work, they are priests of good standing,
they can study, they can publish articles, they can visit friends, their movements are not
restrained, what does it mean?

WC: Can they give interviews to the press?

JV: There’s only two things they cannot do-

WC: Can they, can they give interviews to the press?

JV: Well, well they cannot speak about the visitation because it involved them and other
people and the visitation is still going on and it’s a private thing about private character and
so on and they cannot live in the Birmingham Oratory for the time being until they are healed
and the community is healed and this involves not just them, but the people there. And the
idea that there is some conspiracy to silence them because they are orthodox or something
like that is an insult to the people who are left there because there is no difference between
the Oratorians, they are all equally orthodox, they are all equally good, but people sometimes
don’t get on. There are people in communities sometimes have problems. This goes right
back to the time of Newman, […] he spoke about this, he also had problems with some
people, we’re about to beatify him, he got over this problem, but you know, these problems
with communities should be sorted out internally because they relate to people’s characters
and it’s really bad to speak about them in the media in this way I think.

WC: Ruth Dudley Edwards?

RDE: Well it’s certainly bad if you say nasty Jack! They have not asked for this to be kept
quiet, from my understanding, they are not allowed, by their superiors, to defend themselves.
That is the position. If they were in prison, they would be allowed to defend themselves

JV: Well.

RDE: Fr Felix’ way of sorting out the Oratory, I was just looking at the website this morning-

WC: Fr Felix being the apostolic visitor sent by the Pope to sort out some of the difficulties-

RDE: the Viennese visitor, yes, whom indeed Jack Valero hadn’t- has never met even- has
been an oddity of all this; that Jack Valero, who is a spokesman for Opus Dei, has been made
the spokesman for the Oratory. There are six priests according to the website; four of them
have been chucked out by Fr Felix. There are two left, one of them is eighty-nine.

JV: sorry, that’s not true, there were six priests when he arrived, there are four priests now-

RDE: there are, according to, well they’re not bringing the website up to date Jack-

JV: there is a parish there with four priests, most parishes in the UK have one priest, this is a
parish with four priests, it used to have six, three are away, but one has come so there are now

RDE: Jack we haven’t got much time, lets not argue about minutia. What has been taken out
of the Oratory is the heart and soul of Newman. Dermot Fenlon is an internationally
respected scholar of Newman, Fr Philip Cleevely, ran the Newman cause website [–jack stop,
jack please stop interrupting me-] and Brother Lewis Berry was the archivist for Newman.
Now we know what’s happened to Brother Lewis Berry, he has been transported to South
Africa for a year.

JV: Come off it!

RDE: We are told, we are told...

JV: Come off it!

RDE: ...we are told that he wants to go and as the blogosphere says, frankly Fr Felix, we
simply don’t believe you. One of the most interesting things for me in all this William has been

JV: You’ve got all this completely wrong.

RDE: ...has been the contempt for the laity displayed by particularly Fr Felix Selden.

WC: Okay, we need to hear Jack Valero’s response to some of this now. Jack, some serious
allegations here, that this treatment of these three men is draconian, its medieval, it’s a form
of silencing, it’s a form of exile, it’s a form of imprisonment when they cannot even give an
interview to the press about their current situation. Your response to that?-

JV: Well, … there is a visitation going on and they are sorting it out. They will talk to the
press, I was talking to Father Philip last night and he thought it had got out of control, he’s
preparing himself, he’s going to go to the press now and say what’s happening and so on. But
as I said before these people, their movements are not restrained, they are not prisoners
anywhere, they are different parts, they can be wherever they like, the only thing they’re not
allowed to be is in the community, while the community is being healed, while they
themselves are being healed and this is a process that needs to go on. This is not just
arbitrary; this is not happened arbitrarily for some other sort of ideological reason. This is to
do with healing the community

WC: And is there, is there any truth in the claims that some are making on the internet, that
Fr Paul Chavasse, the former head of the Oratory, who stepped down from his position in
December, is to return to his position before the papal visit?

JV: No I, this is what I said to Ruth when she asked me I said he’s going to be away and he’s
going to come back at some point, like the others are going to come back at some point, we
don’t know, it’s not going to be soon.

WC: more likely after the pope has been to Birmingham and gone?

JV: I think so yes

RDE: So, so the moment in the lives of these three people-and I can’t speak for Fr Paul
Chavasse, I still think he’ll probably be back- the highest spot of their entire lives was to be
being present at the beatification of Cardinal Newman whom they had served, whose
reputation they had served, they’re going to be denied that. Now that level of cruelty
absolutely astonishes me. It is cruel, it is brutal, it is as bad as throwing a sixty-eight year old
man out of his home. Dermot Fenlon has lived in that place for twenty years and it was to be
his home forever. His reputation has been trashed, all over the place. Where can he go? He’s
at the moment, he’s a vagrant.

JV: Well it must have been serious, it must have been a very serious thing to have gone on in
that house for that to happen. That’s what I am saying, it's very serious things going on in that

RDE: I think it’s very clear, I think it’s very clear Jack Valero, that Fr Felix, instead of being
a mediator, acted like an inquisitor, that has made brutal decisions and that now the church is
gathering behind him to defend him. And to throw at these people anything you can think of,
and not give them a chance to defend themselves.

WC: Jack Valero, isn’t this yet another PR disaster by the Vatican, with the potential to overshadow the Papal visit itself?

JV: Well the Vatican, the Vatican is not involved.

WC: the Papal apostolic visitor is involved

JV: Yes, yes, I mean obviously bad things happen and the community had some problems
and they have been trying to resolve them some people have taken up the cause to “Free the
Birmingham Three” and have made this big thing about it and as I said, this is misguided, this
is not what’s happening. What is happening is the healing of a community and this was the
way that was seen that would workWC:

Jack Valero and Ruth Dudley Edwards I am sorry to cut you short but that’s all the time
we have, you can read more about the Birmingham Three on my blog and Sunday Sequence
will come live from Birmingham on Sunday September 19th when the pope officiates the
beatification of John Henry Newman.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Birmingham Three guilty of "disobedience", says spokesman who said they were "entirely guiltless"

John Smeaton - 24.8.2010

Jack Valero (pictured), spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory, and Ruth Dudley Edwards, the writer, debated the issue of the Birmingham Three on BBC Radio Ulster on Sunday - see my blog last Friday for the background to this. You can listen to the debate on the BBC website and read an uncorrected transcript of it on the SPUC website. Ruth Dudley Edwards has written about the debate on the Standpoint magazine website.

Mr Valero said that the "disciplinary matters" to which (he claims to have) referred previously regarding the Three were "pride, anger, disobedience, disunity, nastiness, dissension, the breakdown of charity" adding that
"Very serious things were going on in that house."

This is in contrast to Mr Valero's previous assertion that the Three were "entirely guiltless of any wrongdoing whatsover".

Mr Valero also said that the Three could not return to the Oratory "until they are healed". One assumes that, by "healed", Mr Valero means of their alleged sins of "pride, anger, disobedience, disunity, nastiness, dissension, lack of charity".

Mr Valero added that the Three "are going to come back at some point, we don’t know, it’s not going to be soon" more likely after the Pope's beatification of Cardinal Newman in Birmingham on 19 September. This is in contrast to Mr Valero's previous claim made back in June that the Three "can come back soon and continue as normal."

Yet Br Lewis Berry has not been returned to the Birmingham Oratory but sent thousands of miles away to South Africa for at least a year. The Three have already been sent away from the Oratory for over 100 days.

Interestingly, The Catholic Herald reported yesterday that:

"English Catholic officials are hoping that the Pope will not further inflame anti-Catholic sentiment by speaking out against gay marriage or adoption, or abortion and divorce."

As I wrote in June:

"Could it be that external forces who want a Catholic Church which is inclusive of the Blairs' anti-life, anti-family positions are bringing pressures to bear in this situation? How very convenient it would be, especially in the run-up to Pope Benedict's visit, if uncomfortable issues such as the teaching of the Church on contraception, abortion and on homosexuality were also safely hidden away?"

Could these be the same external forces who have yet to cut their ties with pro-homosexual "rights" campaigning Catholics and with public figures with lengthy anti-life/anti-family records? Also interestingly, Ruth Dudley Edwards writes that Mr Valero "reports to Archbishop Vincent Nichols's press secretary". Mr Valero is also the spokesman for the cause of beatification of Cardinal Newman.

The Birmingham Three - Fr Dermot Fenlon, Fr Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry - publicly opposed an interpretation of Cardinal Newman as the patron of ‘conscientious’ dissent; and publicly opposed the sex and relationships education policies of the last Government and of the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales. It is therefore vital that as many people as possible concerned about the defence of life and family take up the cause of the Birmingham Three.
Standpoint Magazine - online only
Update on the Birmingham Three - Ruth Dudley Edwards


Further to my post Defending the Birmingham Three, I'll be writing in Standpoint on Thursday about some of the most shocking aspects of the treatment of two priests and a brother of the Birmingham Oratory by an Apostolic Visitation. On Friday, responding to a request from the Oratory spokesman, Opus Dei's Jack Valero, who was to be discussing the story with me on Sunday on radio, our editor Daniel Johnson courteously sent an advance copy which Valero promptly circulated to interested parties. The result was a threat (unrealised) of legal action from Father Gareth Jones, the - let me pick my words carefully - unusual canonical adviser to the Visitation about whom I had, I felt, been if anything too charitable.

Father Jones has had an interesting life and arouses strong passions:‘The Father Gareth Jones Question', to be found on 5 August on http://www.lovingit.co.uk/ (127 comments when I last checked) is riveting. If you want to learn more about the exotic cast of characters in this unedifying saga of cruelty, incompetence and secrecy, check out innumerable blogs (including http://www.freethebirminghamoratorythree.blogspot.com/ and the Free the Birmingham Three Facebook group) which feature inter alia the Viennese Father Felix Selden (top Visitor) and Spanish Jack Valero (who reports to Archbishop Vincent Nichols's Press Secretary), with occasional interesting cameo appearances from the low-key Father Ignatius Harrison, the Provost of the Brompton Oratory (second Visitor) - a man too private or perhaps busy - for he is under investigation himself - to answer correspondence from those in search of the disappeared Oratorians.
Valero's argument in response to my complaint on Sunday Sequence about the gagging of these men was that it was done to save their reputations: Mother Church knows what's best for them. Unable to explain what they had done wrong, since he had confirmed they were guilty of none of the sins that the laity speculate about when priests are exiled and silenced, he trashed them comprehensively by positing that disciplinary offences might include ‘pride, anger, disobedience, disunity, nastiness, dissension, the breakdown of charity...very serious things were going on inside that house.' I've known my friend Father Dermot Fenlon since he was eighteen and he has never done anything nasty. As for Fathers Jones, Selden, Harrison and Mr Valero: I couldn't possibly comment.

Monday, 23 August 2010

"Very serious things were going on inside that house"

BBC blogs - Will & Testament
William Crawley - 23.8.2010


Jack Valero (pictured), spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory, told Sunday Sequence this week that the so-called "Birmingham Three" have been ordered to stay away from their religious community because of disciplinary matters relating to the internal life of the Birmingham Oratory such as "pride, anger, disobedience, disunity, nastiness, dissension, the breakdown of charity." "Very serious things were going on inside that house," he said.

Replying to claims from Ruth Dudley Edwards that the Three has been exiled and silenced, he said, "When the [Apostolic] Visitation started in April 2009 ... the [Apostolic] vistor, Fr Felix Selden, found the community in Birmingham disintegrating. Its very existence was actually threatened. This man is not an autocrat, as he has been portrayed in the papers or on the blogs. This is a man who went in there and spent a year, from April 2009 to April 2010, trying to help them to sort themselves out privately because these were private discentions within the community, and when this wasn't working, he said, 'Well, I need to do something . . . this community is in danger.' So he thought, well, the answer is for some to absent from this community for a while. But this 'Free the Birmingham Three' campaign -- what is the meaning of this? These three men are not prisoners. They can come and go as they please, they can do pastoral work, they are priests in good standing, they can study, they can publish articles, they can visit friends, their movements are not restrained -- what does it mean?"

When I asked Jack Valero if the Birmingham Three were permitted to give interviews to the press, he said, "They cannot speak about the Visitation because it involves them and other people and the Visitation is still going on . . . and they cannot live in the Birmingham Oratory for the time being and until they are healed and the community is healed. And this involves not just them but the people there. And the idea that there is some conspiracy to silence them -- because they are orthodox or something like that -- is an insult to the people who are left there ... they are all equally orthodox .. they are all equally good. But people sometimes don't get on ... These problems of communities should be sorted out internally .. and it is really bad to speak about them in the media this way."

Jack Valero said he had spoken to one of the priests, Father Philip Cleevely, who would soon be speaking to the press. He also responded to rumours on the blogs that the Oratory's former provost, Fr Paul Chavasse, would be returning to Birmingham in time for the Pope's visit. Jack Valero said this was unlikely, and that it was most likely that Fr Chavasse and the Oratorians being disciplined would remain away from Birmingham until after the papal visit.

Listen to the interview in full on the BBC iPlayer.

Listen to Sunday Sequence on iPlayer.

Sunday Sequence - 22.8.2010 


Listen to Chapter 4 - 18:03

William Crawley speaks to Ruth Dudley Edwards about the plight of the Birmingham Three and ask the Catholic church's spokesman, Jack Valero, why they sent two priests and a brother into forced exile just months before the Pope was to visit their community house.

Austrian news agency picks up the story

Großbritannien: Konflikt in Birmingham überschattet Papstbesuch - 22.8.2010

London, 22.08.2010 (KAP) Der Besuch Papst Benedikt XVI. Mitte September in Großbritannien könnte nach Berichten englischer Medien von einem Streit an der Wirkungsstätte von Kardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) überschattet werden. So berichtet die Londoner Tageszeitung "Daily Telegraph" in ihrer Samstagausgabe, in Birmingham protestierten Katholiken gegen die "Zwangsexilierung" von drei Mitgliedern des von Newmann nach England gebrachten Oratorianerordens. Die Patres Philip Cleevely und Dermot Fenlon sowie der Bruder Lewis Berry seien aus ungenannten Gründen in die USA beziehungsweise nach Kanada und Südafrika entsandt worden. Die Zeitung erinnert daran, dass vor einem Jahr der Prior wegen einer "engen Beziehung" mit einem jungen Mann in die USA versetzt worden sei.

Der Orden gibt keinerlei Auskunft über die Gründe der Entsendung von Cleevley, Fenlon und Berry ins Ausland. Er erklärte allerdings, diese hätten sich "keiner sexuellen Fehltritte" schuldig gemacht. Die protestierenden Katholiken der Pfarrei des Ordens in Brimingham haben in einem offenen Brief gefordert, über die Gründe der Entsendung der beiden Patres und des Bruders ins Ausland informiert zu werden. Ferner erwarten sie, dass die drei rechtzeitig zum Besuch des Papstes und zur Seligsprechung Newmans wieder nach Birmingham zurückkehren können.

Benedikt XVI. wird vom 16. bis 19. September dem Vereinigten Königreich einen Pastoralbesuch abstatten. Am letzten Besuchstag wird er in Birmingham den 1845 von der anglikanischen zur katholischen Kirche übergetretenen und 1879 von Papst Leo XIII. zum Kardinal erhobenen Newman seligsprechen.

Birmingham Three: the plot continues to thicken

Splintered Sunrise blog – 23.8.2010

... the Birmingham Three saga is more uncontainable than ever. I gotta give mad props to my main man Will Crawley, who was covering it on this morning’s Sunday Sequence, and big up also to Martin Beckford on the Telegraph. It’s certainly one in the eye for those ecclesiastical bullies who would rather have the whole affair silenced.

James reminds us that the Three have now passed more than a hundred days in exile, and that you have to commit a pretty serious crime for the secular courts to send you down for a hundred days. The draconian punishments meted out to three men who, it is admitted, have not committed any offence, seems more than a bit off. It’s all a bit strange, so let’s do a recap. I should say in advance that, while there are all sorts of interesting sidelines to the affair, not much is known for certain. However, even sticking to what’s known and making a bare minimum of deduction, the timeline prompts a number of questions.

Let’s go back to the beginning. In the autumn of 2007, a 20-year-old man approaches Birmingham Oratory seeking to become a priest. He isn’t accepted, but he does strike up this intense relationship with the Provost of the Oratory, Fr Paul Chavasse. The word is that there was no nookie involved – a “close but chaste” relationship is how it’s being put – and we must take that as read, but it was sufficiently visible a relationship to excite comment, especially as Fr Chavasse is as camp as a row of tents. (And yes, I know that camp and gay aren’t the same thing. But we’re talking here about impressions given.)

At this point we have to do a little deduction, so a health warning applies to this paragraph. We may reasonably assume that words were spoken amongst the Oratorians. One important thing to bear in mind is that even assuming there was no nookie involved – which would be difficult to prove either way – allowing the impression to be given that there might be would fall under the category of giving scandal. It’s also important to remember that the gay aspect, while it may add a bit of piquancy, is not necessary for giving scandal. For what it’s worth, those who know Fr Dermot Fenlon swear he isn’t homophobic and the authorities (in the person of Jack Valero) explicitly say he isn’t being accused of such. The fact is that if a middle-aged priest had formed a visibly intense (if chaste) relationship with a 20-year-old woman, it would still be inappropriate behaviour, or at the very least imprudent.

Now then. We are told there was disharmony in the community resulting from this affair. Not surprising, since it’s a tiny community – there are only ten or twelve priests at the best of times, and currently there are only five – and these small religious communities, very much like families, can harbour seething dissensions for a long time. It is further alleged that reports were made to Rome, which is how Fr Felix Selden came to be at the Oratory as Apostolic Visitor.

Fast forward to last December. Abruptly, Fr Chavasse resigns as both Provost of the Oratory and Actor of the Newman Cause. He vanishes from the Oratory, either having been sent away on a long-term retreat or being sent to a parish in America, depending on who you’re talking to. At any rate, he’s gone, and without explanation. Why so abruptly? Perhaps it had something to do with the upcoming papal visit and Newman beatification, with the prospect of B16 dropping into the Oratory for a meeting with the community. Perhaps it had something to do with that TV documentary crew that was hanging around the Oratory. Not being able to read the minds of Felix Selden and Ignatius Harrison, we don’t know.

This may have been the end of things, with the source of the dissension out of the picture. But no, around April rumours of the Chavasse affair begin leaking out into the press. This seems to have spooked the authorities, because it’s shortly afterwards, in May, that Fr Dermot Fenlon, Fr Philip Cleevely and Br Lewis Berry are sent to the Catholic equivalent of Guantánamo Bay – which is to say, ordered to monasteries some hundreds of miles apart to spend an indefinite period in quiet contemplation. With the stress very much on quiet. As with Fr Chavasse, there was no reason given, and the few statements coming from the Oratory served only to confuse things more.

Ten years ago, this might have just been a passing storm, but as we keep saying here, the blogosphere has changed Catholic affairs and meant that the old Tammany Hall methods – well, maybe they aren’t quite untenable, but they’re less tenable than they used to be. From a few disgruntled parishioners at the Oratory, who had seen four members of the community abruptly removed in a short space of time without explanation, this has gradually snowballed. Not least because the papal visit runs a distinct risk of turning into a fiasco even without trouble at Brum Oratory.

The whys and wherefores are obscure, except that the Chavasse affair was the proximate cause. Were the Three, as speculated, the ones who confronted Fr Chavasse? Did they, alternatively, protest the rather brutal removal and humiliation of the much-loved Chavasse? (The two are of course not contradictory.) Were there, given that all those concerned were heavily involved in the Newman Cause, ideological factors to do with the legacy of Newman? Was it just a matter of Church authorities’ well-established dislike for troublemakers? These are some of the questions that people are asking.

And so we are where we are. Fathers Fenlon and Cleevely are said to be in North America, and we do know that Brother Lewis has been sent off to South Africa for at least a year. Apropos of Brother Lewis, since he’s the youngest of the Three and still on the ordination track (actually, his ordination is taking an extraordinarily long time), away from home and cut off from his friends, he has been in a vulnerable enough position that you couldn’t blame him for taking whatever deal he’s been offered. Not least because these orders can be very persuasive when they put their minds to it. If I were a cynic with some knowledge of how Church affairs work, I would speculate that the next step would be to strong-arm Fr Philip into a deal, so then the blame could be placed on Fr Dermot as the ringleader who led the two young men astray. But we aren’t cynics here, are we?

Adding to the murkiness is the prospect of Fr Chavasse returning home for the papal visit, which does make it look rather as if he was in protective custody while the other three have been in extraordinary rendition. Cue some more scratching of heads.

Finally, although we give Uncle Jack Valero a bit of stick around here, I actually feel a little sorry for him. This sort of crisis management would tax the best of spin doctors. At this point, some transparency is the only rational way forward, but I sense that Selden and Harrison don’t have transparency in their vocabulary. It’s something that, these days, all clerics should know about; a good Latin word and everything.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Oratory Times

Catholic & Loving It blog - James Preece - 22.8.2010

Must... keep... Brother... Lewis... Away... From... Pope...

Meanwhile, it would seem that while the Oratory are busy sending Fr Lewis away for very ordinary training at the other end of the world (a tradition begun by Newman?) the Archdiocese of Birmingham think he is already ordained!

Italian news agency picks up the story




(ASCA) - Roma, 20 ago - A poche settimane dalla visita di papa Benedetto XVI, l'Oratorio di Birmingham, fondato da John Henry Newman che il pontefice beatifichera' durante il suo viaggio in Gran Bretagna, ha deciso la rimozione, senza causa apparente, di tre dei suoi preti, condannati a ritirarsi ''in preghiera per un periodo di tempo indefinito''. Padre Philip Cleevely, padre Dermot Fenlon e fratel Lewis Berry sono stati spostati in tre diversi monasteri - di cui uno in Sud Africa - al termine di una visita apostolica dell'Oratorio. I motivi della decisione non sono stati precisati, anche se ci sono state allusioni a ''dissapori'' all'interno della comunita' religiosa di cui facevano parte. Padre Jack Valero, portavoce dell'Oratorio, ha spiegato che ''i tre sono completamente innocenti da qualsiasi colpa, con particolare riferimento a casi di abusi sessuali o di omofobia''. Papa Benedetto XVI visitera' in forma privata l'Oratorio dopo aver presieduto alla messa di beatificazione del cardinale Newman a Birmingham il prossimo 19 settembre.

Translation from http://www.microsofttranslator.com/:


(ASCA)-Rome, 20 August-just a few weeks before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, the Birmingham Oratory, founded by John Henry Newman that the Pope will beatify ' during his trip to Britain, decided the removal, without apparent cause, of three of his priests, condemned to retreat '' in prayer for an indefinite period of time. '' Father Philip Cleevely, father Dermot Fenlon and brother Lewis Berry were moved into three different monasteries-including one in South Africa-at the end of an apostolic visit of Oratory. The reasons for the decision have not been clarified, although there were disagreements allusions to '' '' within the religious communities which included. Father Jack Valero, spokesman of the oratory, explained that ' ' the three are completely innocent of any fault, with particular reference to cases of sexual abuse or homophobia ' '. Pope Benedict XVI will visit ' in private oratory after chaired the mass of beatification of Cardinal Newman in Birmingham on 19th September.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

One Hundred Days of Exile

Catholic & Loving It - James Preece - 21.8.2010

Today is the one hundredth day of exile for The Birmingham Three.

One hundred days is not a short period of time. In one hundred days you could walk from Edinburgh to London and you would only need to cover four miles a day.

To get 100 days in prison you have to do something fairly serious. There was the priest who got 100 days in prison for stealing thousands of dollars from his Church. There was the man who got 100 days in prison for ignoring a stop sign on his motorbike and killing a man. Then there was the man who attacked his girlfriend who also got 100 days in prison.

The Birmingham Three - Fr Dermot Fenlon, Fr Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry - have done nothing wrong. This is official. Jack Valeo told me on Radio West Midlands that "there's no indication they've done something wrong, they've been punished or anything. these words are wrong they give the wrong impression". Ruth Dudley Edwards says that Jack "has confirmed unequivocally that the Three are entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever, including, specifically, sexual misdemeanours or homophobia.

So why have they been exiled for 100 days?

Why has one of them been sent away for a year?

Why are rumours flying around all over the place that the other two will get an even worse sentence?

Today the story hits The Daily Telegraph and we learn a little more about the location of Frs Fenlon and Cleevely: "The Oratory has refused to explain why the three priests have been sent away – one is now in America, another in Canada and the third is going to South Africa"

If these three men have done nothing wrong then the obvious thing is to send them home, end the media speculation and lift the shadow from the Papal visit.

100 Days of Solitude

Today marks the 100th day since the Birmingham Three were sent away. 100 days since they have seen their home. A hundred days that they haven’t known their fate.

Today, in recognition of their 100 days of silence, we need to make our voices heard for them. Today, please tell a friend or family member about the Birmingham Three. Please ask them to read the blogs and join the "Free the Birmingham Three" Facebook group.  Today, please remember the Birmingham Three in your prayers.

They’ve been gagged, but we haven’t.

Free the Birmingham Three!

Pope's visit could be overshadowed by exile of Birmingham priests

The Daily Telegraph – Martin Beckford - 21.8.2010


"The Pope’s historic visit to Britain is in danger of being overshadowed by a growing row over the exiling of three members of a religious community he is due to visit."

Visitor send Oratorian to South Africa

The Catholic Herald - Huw Twiston Davies - 20.8.2010

One of the three men removed from the Birmingham Oratory in May is to be sent to South Africa, it has been announced.

Fr Felix Selden, Apostolic Visitor of the Holy See for the Oratorians, said that Brother Lewis Berry will be sent to the Oratory in Port Elizabeth for "a period of at least one year" starting in the first week of September.

It will mean that Brother Lewis, who ran the website for the Cause of Cardinal John Henry Newman, will miss the beatification of the founder of the Birmingham community in September.

Fr Selden added that the decision was made "after consulting the Fathers", and considering Brother Lewis's own views.

He said Brother Lewis's formation "will best be met in an Oratorian community that will afford him greater opportunities for a varied programme of pastoral work, as the Church requires of a deacon".

Brother Lewis is one of the so-called "Birmingham Three", along with Fr Philip Cleevely and Fr Dermot Fenlon. He has been staying with his parents in France since he was sent away from the Oratory in the spring.

Fr Fenlon was sent to Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire, and Fr Cleevely to Plus-carden Abbey in Moray, Scotland. A statement on their futures is expected within the next few weeks but none is likely to return to the Oratory.

The three were "ordered to go on retreat after disagreements with the rest of the community", and were "told to spend time in prayer for an indefinite period" by Fr Selden.

" Fr Selden added that Brother Lewis "has welcomed the opportunity" and is "now preparing for this next stage of his formation".

Fr Selden also requested "that the Oratorian community in Birmingham be allowed to continue its work without hindrance", insisting that the visitation to the Oratory had been "chiefly concerned with the community's own internal life and discipline". Controversy continues to surround the treatment of the three, however, some Oratory parishioners and others have sharply criticised the decision to remove them.

JackValero, spokesman for the Newman Cause, has also confirmed that the three are not guilty of any wrongdoing.

In an article in Irish Independent, journalist Ruth Dudley Edwards entered the fray, accusing Fr Selden of "authoritarianism" and said that the three had been "gagged".

She said that Fr Fenlon was a "close friend" at both University College, Dublin and Cambridge University, and that he was "a distinguished academic who became a priest of impeccable orthodoxy".

She said the three were "in perfect theological harmony" with the Pope.

Cardinal John Henry Newman founded the first Oratory in Britain in Maryvale near Birmingham in 1848, which later moved into a disused gin factory in the city centre.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Sturat Reid's Charterhouse column

The Catholic Herald - Stuart Ried - 20.8.2010

What a miserable place the Church is at the moment.  With less than a month to go before Pope Benedict XVI lands at Heathrow the bickering among excitable Catholics has reached almost frenzied proportions.
     Things are especially miserable in Birmingham, which will be the focus of attention when the Holy Father presides over the beatification of Cardinal Newman there on September 19.  Proximate cause of the misery is the removal from the Birmingham Oratory of Fr Philip Cleevely, Fr Dermot Fenlon and Brother Lewis Berry, together known as the Birmingham Three.
     Many Catholics will no doubt have heard of strange goings on in the Midlands, but very few will have anything but the vaguest idea what all the fuss is about.  In the blogosphere, however, rumours about the Birmingham Three have been flying about since May; howling indignation is accompanied by bizarre conspiracy theories.  Now the whole thing is about to go mainstream. 
     Next week Standpoint magazine will carry an article on the Birmingham Three by Ruth Dudley Edwards, a libertarian Irish atheist.  On the magazine's website Ms Dudley Edwards has promised to write "venomously about the scandalous way in which these men have been treated".  In consequence she now enjoys something like Guardian Angel status among some Catholics.
     More of Ms Dudley Edwards in a moment.  Let me first tell the story so far: the Birmingham Three were sent on indefinite leave in May following an official investigation into unhappiness at the Oratory.  Apparently there had been tensions for some time.  Earlier this year Fr Paul Chavasse was replaced as Provost by Fr Richard Duffield, from the Oxford Oratory.
     Since the expulsions, Catholic zealots have been creating a narrative of martyrdom.  The Birmingham Three, according to the narrative, were outspokenly orthodox men - especially on matters of sexual morality - and have been removed from the scene precisely because they were orthodox and might have caused embarrassment to the hierarchy by speaking out of turn during the Pope's visit.
     Now the Bishops of England and Wales are by no means above reproach, but their occasional equivocations and their reluctance to silence dissidents does not mean that they have embraced a Cherie Blair view of the Church.
     In some quarters, however, the hierarchy is thought to be so steeped in perfidy that our old friend, the Nazi analogy, is again being pressed into service.  A reader of one blog, for example, offered a "little history lesson" to all those who wanted to lead a peaceful life and keep quiet about the Birmingham Three: "Hitler took Sudetenland - we said nothing.  Hitler took Rhineland - we said nothing.  Hitler took Austria - we said nothing.  Hitler took Czechoslovakia - we said nothing.  Hitler took Poland - we realised there might be a bit of a problem.  Six years later six million Jews and millions of other innocent people had been murdered because we said nothing when we had the chance to.  Did we learn nothing from Hitler?... For the sake of our own freedom as Christians and that of our children we have the moral obligation to speak out and to act."
     Even the reputable Catholic Family News has clambered aboard the Nazi bandwagon by asking St Maximillion Kolbe to intercede on behalf of the Birmingham Three.  As CF News notes, St Maximillion, patron saint of political prisoners, "teaches us that we are called to give testimony to the truth and to the Light and to boldly oppose the dark powers that curse the radiance of Christ's love with tyranny, injustice and cruelty".  The dark powers are those ranged against the Birmingham Three - ie,  the bishops.
     Whether Ruth Dudley Edwards will take the Nazi route remains to be seen.  But her undertaking to write "venomously" suggests that she does not plan to walk the road of sunny moderation.  On the Standpoint blog last week she said that Jack Valero, spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory, had "confirmed unequivocally that the Three are entirely guiltless of any wrongdoing whatsoever, including, specifically, sexual misdemeanours or homophobia".  That sentence has been seized on by conspiracy-theorists as definitive, since in vindicates their view that the Birmingham Three are victims of gross injustice.  In some places the phrase "entirely guiltless" is now attributed to Jack Valero, whereas in truth it occurs as part of a summary by Ms Dudley Edwards of what Jack Valero said.
     Did he use exactly the words she uses in her summary?  It is possible, I suppose; but does it really matter?  Wrong-doing - moral turpitude - is not the only thing that can cause bad blood, and one can see how psych-social problems might easily arise among good, holy and perhaps sometimes pedantic men living together in a hierarchical community.
     At any rate Mr Valero has been consistent in this matter.  In the first place his concern was to avoid lewd speculation in the secular press by making it clear that no one involved in this case has been guilty of sexual impropriety - or any form of moral turpitude.  In the second place, his concern was to protect the right of the Oratory to handle its own affairs in private.  The Church is not a democracy, after all; it is not accountable.
     In the meantime, it was announced last week that Brother Lewis was being sent to Port Elizabeth in South Africa.  Poor soul, said some of the bloggers.  Excuse me?  Lucky blighter is more like it.  It's not as though he was being sent to Wolverhampton.  Port Elizabeth is a lovely place.  It has fabulous surfing beaches, and pretty soon it will be summer there.
     It's hard not to be flippant at times.  The Birmingham Three have clearly been unlucky and are perhaps the victims of circumstances.  The excitable Catholic bloggers are right to be worried about the state of the Church, but they seem inclined to believe rather too passionately not only in their own righteousness but in the wickedness of those they see as their opponents.  It is anyway dangerous to turn speculation into truth and to damn good people on the basis of what is no more than surmise.  It might be nice if we were all a bit less - look out, here comes the word - judgmental.

Controversy continues on the Birmingham Three, champions of the family and the unborn

John Smeaton on 20.8.2010

Stuart Reid, a respected veteran Catholic journalist, has written the most unfortunate piece for this weekend's Charterhouse column in The Catholic Herald. In brief, he labels Catholic bloggers, families and Birmingham Oratory parishioners standing up for the Birmingham Three (see my blog last Sunday) as over-excited, self-righteous, judgmental conspiracy theorists. Mr Reid has done a grave disservice to faithful pro-life/pro-family Catholics by his patronising comments. Mr Reid is also wide of the mark on at least two key points.

Mr Reid asserts that:

"the bishops of England and Wales are by no means above reproach, but their occasional equivocations and their reluctance to silence dissidents does not mean that they have embraced a Cherie Blair view of the Church."

"Occasional equivocations" is a wholly inadequate description of the bishops' frequent and determined support for anti-life and anti-family legislation, policies and practices, such as:

the facilitating of abortion in Catholic hospitals

secret abortions on schoolgirls without parental knowledge or consent

• the provision of contraception and anti-life/anti-family sex education in schools

welcoming and guaranteeing the presence of homosexual, bisexual and transsexual teachers in Catholic schools in England and Wales*

euthanasia by omission

assisted suicide.

"[R]eluctance to silence dissidents" is a wholly inadequate description of the bishops' refusal to:

sack Greg Pope, appointed deputy director of the Catholic Education Service (CES) despite his lengthy anti-life/anti-family parliamentary record

remove The Tablet from sale in Catholic churches, despite its notorious dissent from Catholic pro-life/pro-family teaching

stop the special provision of Mass for a homosexual group which has made clear its dissent from Catholic teaching on homosexuality*

discipline Tony and Cherie Blair, or indeed any public figure, for their public records and open campaigning against Catholic pro-life/pro-family teaching.

So, I think the evidence speaks for itself that "a Cherie Blair view of the Church" is precisely the vision that the bishops of England and Wales have. They are themselves "dissidents" within the Catholic Church.

Mr Reid is also wrong when he claims:

"Mr Valero has been consistent in this matter."

Readers of my blog will recall that Jack Valero of Opus Dei is spokesman for the Newman canonisation cause and the Birmingham Oratory, and that he has confirmed unequivocally that the Three are entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever. Mr Valero told BBC West Midlands that, after

"a time away to cool down and pray and to reflect on how disagreements arose and difficulties living together arose" the Birmingham Three "can come back soon and continue as normal."

Yet Br Lewis Berry has not been returned to the Birmingham Oratory but sent thousands of miles away to South Africa for at least a year.

I will be listening to Sunday Sequence at 8.30 a.m. on BBC Radio Ulster this Sunday to hear "William Crawley and his guests debate the week's religious and ethical news" (according to the programme notes).

Mr Crawley, a BBC broadcaster and blogger, writes:

"On Sunday, we will try to make some sense of what is going on at the Birmingham Oratory and why three Oratorians who are "innocent of any wrong doing" have been "silenced and exiled" in what their supporters are describing as the ecclesiastical equivalent of "extraordinary rendition". Ruth Dudley Edwards and Jack Valero will be my guests on Sunday morning."

Mr Crawley continues:

"The campaign to 'free' the Birmingham Three is gathering pace. Supporters of Fr Dermot Fenlon, Fr Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry have now launched their own website, "

Regular readers will also know that Ruth Dudley Edwards, the author, is an historian, biographer and journalist with a burning sense of injustice about the treatment of the three Oratorians and that she has been writing about the situation in various journals. Last weekend, in The Irish Independent, she wrote:

"... I haven't had that much I could agree on with Dermot Fenlon, a close friend at UCD and Cambridge University, a distinguished academic who became a priest of impeccable orthodoxy.

"But I hate injustice, and Dermot has become a victim of a faction within his church which favours the old weapons of authoritarianism and concealment. When I read in late May that he had been ordered to a Trappist monastery, I was horrified.

For the last 20 years, Dermot has lived in the Birmingham Oratory founded by Cardinal Newman, nurturing his parishioners, continuing his Newman studies and praying so much he was known for his shiny trouser-knees ... "

I am a layman and pro-life family man who is aware of the unequivocal stand taken by these three good men against the anti-life, anti-family sex and relationships education policies of the last Government and of the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales.They need people to defend them. I intend to keep on doing so.

*Pope John Paul II, the great pro-life champion, teaches in paragraph 97 of Evangelium Vitae that it is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not offer adolescents and young adults an authentic education in sexuality, and in love, and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Birmingham Oratory

Colophon blog - Holy Trinity Monastery, East Hendred
A monastery of Roman Catholic Benedictine nuns in the Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire

Recently the blogosphere has been awash with comment on events at the Birmingham Oratory, most notably the removal of Fr Philip Cleevely, Fr Dermot Fenlon and Br Lewis Berry for an indefinite period of prayer and reflection at various monasteries in Britain and France. Colophon does not wish to comment on the specifics of the case but will certainly be praying for all concerned, especially the three exiles, of whom one, Fr Dermot, is remembered with great respect from Cambridge days.

What we do want to comment on, however, is the way in which the Church often deals with "internal disputes" within its religious communities and priestly congregations. It is no secret that we ourselves know something of the pressures which can be brought to bear, especially on those who wish to be loyal and obedient but who do not form a majority/find themselves conscientiously holding views at odds with those of the superior or other members of the community. Sanctions only work if they are applied to people who acknowledge the authority of those applying them and desire to continue as priests, monks, nuns or whatever, despite the injustices or difficulties to which they may be subject. The alternative is what might be called the Milingo approach: shake the dust of the Church from one's feet and do one's own thing (the eccentric and excommunicate former archbishop is now the Ecumenical Catholic Apostolic Church of Peace's patriarch of South Africa).

Internal investigations, by definition, rarely make sense to outsiders but what we know of the Birmingham case makes uncomfortable reading. The sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is not the only form of abuse: there can be an abuse of authority in other areas which is countenanced because it is (mistakenly) linked to religious obedience, with the result that people who have done nothing wrong can be made to pay a high price for their integrity. Everyone has a right to their good name, and it would be sad indeed if the Church were to allow any suspicion to attach to those who have committed no sin and broken no law. It is troubling that the three members of the Oratory are left with a cloud hanging over them. One hopes that, like Newman's, it will soon be lifted for ever (though perhaps not by the gift of a cardinal's hat!)

Again, we stress that we have no inside knowledge regarding events in Birmingham and trust that we are not sniffing sulphur where there is none. The fact remains that what has happened and even more the way in which it has happened are disturbing. This is surely a case where Church authority needs to be a little more transparent if it is not to appear harsh and authoritarian. Fifteen hundred years ago Benedict foresaw the need for "neighbouring abbots and Christians" to keep an eye on the local monastery and act promptly if need be (RB 64.6). That means trying to put things right when they go wrong, of course; but it also means standing up for truth and justice in the face of any official desire for "tidy solutions" or "quick fixes". In the language of today, it means that every Christian has a duty of care towards every other member of the Church.

Brother Lewis Berry Exiled to South Africa

Catholic & Loving It Blog - James Preece on 16.8.2010

Thanks to everybody who passed this on - for some reason Jack Valero didn't see fit to send me the press release direct...

Fr. Felix Selden, the Apostolic Visitor of the Holy See for the worldwide Confederation of the Oratory of St.Philip Neri has made the following statement with regard to recent speculation about Br. Lewis Berry of the Birmingham Oratory.

“In the course of the Apostolic Visitation currently being carried out at the Birmingham Oratory, after consulting with the Fathers, and taking account of Br. Lewis Berry’s own views, it has been agreed that Br. Lewis’ ongoing formation will best be met in an Oratorian Community that will afford him greater opportunities for a varied programme of pastoral work, as the Church requires of a deacon.

As from the first week of September 2010 Br. Lewis will reside and work at the Port Elizabeth Oratory in South Africa, for a period of at least one year. He has welcomed this opportunity and is now preparing for this next stage of his formation.

I now again request that the Oratorian Community in Birmingham be allowed to continue its work without hindrance. The Apostolic Visitation that has been taking place at the Birmingham Oratory has been chiefly concerned with the Community’s own internal life and discipline.”

The Port Elizabeth Oratory was canonically established by the Holy See on 12th May 2008 and strives to carry out its vocational motto often repeated by the founder of the Oratory, St Philip Neri: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” (Ps 100:2)

Fr. Felix Selden, C.O.

Let me recap the official (100% speculation free) explanation so far...

The Birmingham Three have done nothing wrong, they are are "entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever, including, specifically, sexual misdemeanours or homophobia".

Because of "disagreements" within the community - disagreements which if they resulted in fist fights or name calling or any other things that might have caused problems for the papal visit these things are are not the fault of the Birmingham Three who as we know are "entirely guiltless".

This is why they have been silenced and sent to live in monasteries hundreds of miles apart for 95 days.

Now, Brother Lewis (the youngest of the three) is being sent to South Africa and will miss the Papal visit - even though he is "entirely guiltless" because it is suddenly very important for him to receive the kind of formation one simply cannot get within the United Kingdom and it is entirely normal for Oratorians to get less than a months notice that they will be spending a year at the other end of the world.

The official story just doesn't make sense.

The "speculation" that somebody somewhere wants them out of the way sounds a lot more reasonable...

Poor Brother Lewis. Still, at least now he is back in an Oratory and presumably in good standing. Does that mean we will now be allowed to talk to him?

"Frankly, Father Selden, we simply don't believe you"

Catholic Family News - 15.8.2010

Parishioners of the Birmingham Oratory and members of the NACF email : 'Several weeks ago we reported a rumour that Father Dermot Fenlon, Father Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry were soon to be made subject to the ecclesiastical equivalent of "extraordinary rendition". Many suggested that this was nothing but vain speculation. Extraordinary rendition has now been carried out just as we said it would be and, in the case of Brother Lewis Berry, publicly.

Our questions asking whether and when the three would be returning have never been answered, though Jack Valero, Oratory spokesman, has said emphatically that they have done nothing wrong. He has also said that the three men would be dealt with differently, a statement which now has a very sinister ring. Brother Lewis Berry has now been sent to South Africa "for a period of at least one year" as a deacon – but when will he be ordained?

In view of what has happened to Brother Lewis Berry, one hardly dare speculate what will happen to our two priests. We now fear that the sentence to be passed on Father Dermot Fenlon is likely to be particularly cruel.

In his press release Father Felix Selden states that the reason for Brother Lewis Berry being sent to South Africa is that it "will afford him greater opportunities for a varied programme of pastoral work" and Father Selden states that Brother Lewis Berry has "welcomed this opportunity". Father Selden then goes on to reiterate that the Apostolic Visitation "has been chiefly concerned with the Community's own internal life and discipline". Frankly we simply do not believe Father Selden.

In the video entitled "The Oratory Library and Learning" on the Papal Visit website, Father Guy Nicholls tells us that for an Oratorian, "The house where he lives is his house for all his lifetime". Yet two of the priests and one brother of the Birmingham Oratory are currently homeless until and unless they are allowed to return to what is rightfully their home.

We invite readers to watch carefully for news as to what is to happen to Father Philip Cleevely and Father Dermot Fenlon and then examine their consciences as to whether they can continue to accept the fiction that this is about private internal difficulties or some minor clash of personality. We believe that what is in store for them will be draconian and the mismatch between the alleged difficulties and the savage penalties carried out will no longer be possible to ignore.

Birmingham Three: this suppression will not stand!

Splintered Sunrise blog - 15.8.2010

However much the powers that be sit on this, the scandal of the Birmingham Three just won’t go away, in fact it spreads further and further. Here is Ruth Dudley Edwards in today’s Sunday Independent:

"What Father Selden had reckoned without was the blogosphere. By the time I heard what had happened to Dermot, speculation was rampant, much of it of the ‘no-smoke-without-fire’ variety. By the time he was permitted to go to the US to do some teaching, he found that there was a widespread belief that to have been punished with indefinite exile suggested ‘The Birmingham Three’, as they are known by sympathisers, were guilty of some terrible sexual sins. Yet on the blogs there were also many, many supporters who believe they have been victimised by the establishment for being forthright defenders of Catholic values in the face of secularist threats (Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, is not in favour of too much challenging of the state) and for having eloquently resisted attempts to co-opt Newman as a gay icon.

All three had been looking forward to the papal visit as the high point of their clerical careers, but although it appears that Father Chavasse will be back for it, the others will remain exiled: three Oratorians who are in complete theological harmony with Pope Benedict are being kept as far away from him as possible. Enquiries from the laity to Father Selden have resulted in a patronising brush-off: the official line is that they were a cause of disunity.

As I write, Brother Berry has been ordered to South Africa for at least a year and the Oratory spokesman tells me the other two await imminent sentence. Their defenders have formed an alliance that includes right-wing Catholics, people of other religions and none, and gays as well as straights, for from personal knowledge I can testify that there is nothing homophobic about Dermot Fenlon, who was much sought-after as a confessor."

Read the whole thing here, and also please visit the Free the Birmingham Oratory Three blog. One understands, of course, that such as Selden and Harrison aren’t used to having to explain themselves to the great unwashed, and don’t particularly like the idea, but if I was advising them (hello Jack) my advice would be to get this resolved as soon as possible, preferably by bringing the Three home. Otherwise this fiasco runs the risk of overshadowing the Newman beatification.

A few further thoughts. Firstly, the splitting up of the Three enables them to be picked off individually, or at least for pressure to be brought on the younger two – Fr Dermot is not known for his fear of rocking the boat, and would be a tough man to pressurise. Secondly, since it’s being spun that Fr Chavasse will soon be returning to Brum, it would seem to me that his exile was not punitive but designed to protect him. Thirdly, why exactly are the Oratorians being allowed to investigate themselves?

I humbly suggest that there are a few people in Rome who might find this fiasco interesting.

Hello darkness my old friend

Splintered Sunrise blog - 10.8.2010

I really hope our friend Austen Ivereigh has had a nice, relaxing time of it in Tanzania. Seriously, I do, because what follows beneath may have a bad effect on Austen’s blood pressure.

Okay, so if there’s one thing that should have been made abundantly clear in Catholic circles by the clerical abuse scandal, it’s that a culture of secrecy and silence is not going to fly these days. It especially isn’t going to fly given an increasing unwillingness amongst the faithful to keep quiet for fear of rocking the boat. Indeed, the fact that you are reading this on the interwebs tells you that we are long past the point where there were a couple of weekly papers that could be leaned on by the Magic Circle if an inconvenient story needed suppressing. And yet, there are still some dumbos in the Catholic establishment who don’t apprehend this basic truth.

Exhibit A is the case of the Birmingham Three. This has now moved up a gear, with two developments. One is that it’s been made public that the three exiles are not guilty of any wrongdoing, which prompts the question of why three Oratorians acknowledged to be guilty of nothing have been treated more severely than, well, I’m sure some notorious clerical miscreants will come to mind. The other is that Ruth Dudley Edwards is on the case, and Ruth is a fairly heavy hitter in the media. The longer this drags on, the more it will spread.

It strikes me that if Iggy Harrison had come out at the start of this with some anodyne statement about the Three being sent away because of, I don’t know, personality clashes at the Oratory, the whole thing would probably have died down by now. At least it wouldn’t have taken on the dimensions it now has. And now, of course, the silence has become the story, and the silence is going to feed the rumours and speculation. It’s no wonder Uncle Jack Valero seemed a little subdued, even pensive, at the Evangelium conference. Not quite his usual ebullient self.

Which brings me to Exhibit B, namely Catholic Voices. I mention this because there is no earthly reason for Catholic Voices to be run along Chatham House lines, and if you announce some high-profile project and then are less than open about it, you positively invite speculation. This appears to be lost on our friend Dr Ivereigh, who apparently has taken to phoning around the dweebs Voices in an agitated state, demanding that one of them fess up to being the leak. Really, I am disappointed. I knew Austen didn’t understand the blogosphere, but I would have thought he might have heard of something called a “grape-vine”. We’re not talking George Smiley here. Perhaps we might put that down to the personal eccentricity of someone who might urge his wedding guests not to talk about the happy occasion lest he be subjected to some mild ribbing on the internet; or someone who would cajole his pal Robert Pigott into something as ineffably dopey as this. But no, I have a feeling this goes beyond Dr Ivereigh’s idiosyncrasies.

Perhaps the liking for secrecy is an Opus Dei thing. But I suspect it’s got more to do with a general attitude that the Catholic establishment shouldn’t have to be answerable to the great unwashed, and that asking awkward questions is just terribly vulgar. That’s a habit that the establishment will have to break, or be broken from, like it or no.

In the case of CV, which I reiterate is a perfectly sound idea in principle and should have been done years ago, it creates a sort of air of shiftiness around something that could perfectly easily be transparent; in fact, if it was transparent, it would be easier to get the great unwashed to adopt the project as something they can be enthusiastic about. But have Beavis and Butt-head grasped this concept? Noooo.

And of course, if you’re used to operating without scrutiny, this makes amateurish pratfalls much more likely. For instance, CV made much of its rigorous selection procedure, helped along by the involvement of such as Fr Stephen Wang, who is used to rigorous selection procedures in his Allen Hall capacity. This rigorous procedure ran to summarily dismissing a number of enthusiastic young Catholic bloggers on the grounds of their being “mad” (Ivereigh-speak for “slightly more orthodox than me”); yet apparently did not run to basic things like, oh, making sure that all the Voices would be present at the roll-out in September, without being derailed by small matters like visas running out. Do you think Simon Cowell runs X Factor with that sort of slapdash attitude?

This may not matter if it was just a Jack ‘n’ Austen vanity project, but no, the Catholic establishment is heavily vested in this boondoggle. It’s being co-patronised by Dan Brennan and Chris Jamison, neither of whom is a lightweight. Luminaries such as Vin Nichols, Charles Wookey and Jamie Bogle have popped in to meet and greet. Uncle Jack has been appearing everywhere to talk about how tremendously significant CV is. With that sort of buildup, you’d better hope the end product is good.

Here’s a final thought. You will of course be aware that there’s this outfit called the “Catholic Communications Network”, which is supposed to do the comms for the Bishops’ Conference on a regular basis. Arguably, it’s the notorious uselessness of CCN that makes a project like Catholic Voices necessary. But hark! What’s this? Papal Visit Communication Officers, linked to the individual dioceses? To paraphrase the divine Oscar, duplication of functions may be put down to inefficiency, but triplication looks like extravagance. At least the Magic Circle can’t be blamed for this appeal from the BBC, or we might be talking about quadruplication of functions.

As the late VI Lenin used to say, “better fewer but better”. I’d rather have a handful of comms people who know what they’re doing than a small army who don’t.

Moreover, this is a bit like the Greg Pope situation. When Eccleston Square identify a problem, their stock response is to throw money at it. Hence dealing with the Oona Stannard problem by creating a job for Greg Pope and hoping that he cancels Oona out, rather than having the Oona Stannard problem compounded by a Greg Pope problem. And Alexander DesForges being AWOL making a new series of Changing Rooms is to be addressed by new media teams springing up like dandelions.

Bearing in mind that the Catholic Church has, how shall we put this, certain issues with cashflow, and that we’re in an age of austerity more generally, it really is striking that the Catholic establishment are doing a good impression of Formula One drivers spraying champagne all around them. Does Vin Nichols think this is a sensible way to proceed? Does Dan Brennan think it’s a sensible way to proceed? Because I don’t.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Birmingham Oratory's Brother Lewis Berry is sent to South Africa

John Smeaton on 15.8.2010

As my regular visitors will know, three Birmingham Oratorians were ordered to spend time in prayer for an indefinite period in three separate monasteries, in Scotland, Leicestershire and France. During the past few days, it's been reported that Brother Lewis has been sent to the Port Elizabeth Oratory in South Africa.

The things which strike me most about this situation are:

• they are not only known for their championship of the unborn, they publicly opposed the anti-life, anti-family sex and relationships education policies of the last government and of the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales

• the powers-that-be say they are entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever, including, specifically, sexual misdemeanours or homophobia

• the confidence and apparent ruthlessness with which manifestly unjust and draconian sentences on them are being enforced

Ruth Dudley Edwards picks up on these themes in an article in today's Irish Independent. It's worth reading. You might also wish to join the Facebook group "Free the Birmingham Three". You can also keep up with development through the Free the Birmingham Oratory Three blog.

Writings of the highest quality

Catholic Family News – 15.8.2010

Eric Hester emails:
SIR - I must thank you for the NACF news which every week is so important. I especially commend you at the moment for drawing attention to the disturbing news of the banishment of the three Oratorians from Birmingham. It is most disturbing that such good men have been banished and also that the Catholic laity are not being given any reason for this. Since I was a head master of Catholic Schools for twenty-four years, grammar and comprehensive, and I am still an inspector of schools, I am especially interested in Catholic education. When these men were at the Birmingham Oratory their writings about education were of the highest quality. They rightly opposed the last government's plans for compulsory political sex education and highlighted the support of the Catholic Education Service for this sex education which explicitly promoted abortion, contraception and homosexuality. The quality of the statements from the Birmingham Oratory on the defence of the innocence of children were of such a high quality that I have to confess that I copied them and used them since they were better than anything I could produce. I join you in prayer that these good men may soon be reinstated and that the whole matter should be removed from the realms of secrecy.

Ruth Dudley Edwards: Victims of the old authoritarian weapons

Irish Independent - 15.8.2010

The 'Birmingham Three' have been victimised for resisting secularist threats, says Ruth Dudley Edwards


Birmingham Oratory Three - Press Conference

Birmingham Oratory Three - Press Conference

Saturday, 14 August 2010

St. Maximillion Kolbe, pray for them.

14th August is the feast of St.Maximillion Kolbe, martyr of charity.

Among his patronage, St Maximillion Kolbe is a patron of imprisoned people, political prisoners, of families and of the pro-life movement.

St Maximilian Kolbe teaches us that we are called to give testimony to the truth and to the Light and to boldly oppose the dark powers that curse the radiance of Christ’s love with tyranny, injustice and cruelty.

The dark shadows that haunted the 20th century still haunt us today. But, because of the witness of saints like Maximilian Kolbe, we know that in Christ there is a light in the darkness that cannot be overcome.

Truth will prevail.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Birmingham Oratory Brother sent to South Africa

Catholic Herald - Huw Twiston Davies on 13.8.2010


Br. Lewis will reside and work in South Africa

(That's about 6000 miles away)
Fr. Felix Selden, the Apostolic Visitor of the Holy See for the worldwide Confederation of the Oratory of St.Philip Neri has made the following statement with regard to recent speculation about Br. Lewis Berry of the Birmingham Oratory.

"In the course of the Apostolic Visitation currently being carried out at the Birmingham Oratory, after consulting with the Fathers, and taking account of Br. Lewis Berry's own views, it has been agreed that Br. Lewis' ongoing formation will best be met in an Oratorian Community that will afford him greater opportunities for a varied programme of pastoral work, as the Church requires of a deacon.

As from the first week of September 2010 Br. Lewis will reside and work at the Port Elizabeth Oratory in South Africa, for a period of at least one year.  He has welcomed this opportunity and is now preparing for this next stage of his formation.

I now again request that the Oratorian Community in Birmingham be allowed to continue its work without hindrance.  The Apostolic Visitation that has been taking place at the Birmingham Oratory has been chiefly concerned with the Community's own internal life and discipline."

The Port Elizabeth Oratory was canonically established by the Holy See on 12th May 2008 and strives to carry out its vocational motto often repeated by the founder of the Oratory, St. Philip Neri: "Serve the Lord with gladness." (Ps100:2)

Fr Felix Selden, C.O.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Three crucified sons of Newman, now silenced for 91 days

Catholic Family News - 12.8.2010

 Fr. Dermot Fenlon               Fr. Philip Cleevely                             Br. Lewis Berry

John Smeaton blogs : 'As I said in June: 'Everything covered up will be uncovered at the Birmingham Oratory'. It could not be more important for a proper understanding of this scandal that, according to the spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory, these men are 'are entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever' . Please alert your friends to the plight of the Birmingham Three'.

We ask our readers worldwide for prayers and Masses, please, as the crisis deepens and the situation at the Birmingham Oratory appears to be going into freefall