AN INTERVIEW with Dr Thomas Ward, Vice-President of the National Association of Catholic Families, Corresponding Member of the Pontifical Council for Life.
CF NEWS : Dr Ward, you say there are some remarkable coincidences in the story of the expulsion of three members of the Birmingham Oratory, exactly one year ago this week.
Dr WARD : I believe that what has happened must be looked at spiritually. Yes, and there are remarkable coincidences. Note the date May 13th.
First, on May 13 1917 at Fatima in Portugal.
This is the day on which Our Lady appeared to those three young children, and asked Lúcia Santos and her younger cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto "Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?" Lucia as spokesman for all three readily agreed: "Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort."
Our Lady finished with a request: "Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and the end of the war." With that she began to rise into the air, moving towards the east until she disappeared.
Second, it was on May 13th 1981 that Blessed John Paul II was shot in Rome.
As a young bishop in Krakow he established an institute for the study and pastoral care of families; in 1980 he called the first of all his synods of the world's bishops- and the topic was the family. One year later he issued his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, upon which the National Association of Catholic Families is based. Throughout his pontificate Familiaris Consortio remained his favourite Apostolic Exhortation. He consistently proclaimed that the role of parents as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. It is irreplaceable, inalienable, and incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others. Later in 1981 he created the Pontifical Council for the Family.
The next year, on the anniversary of the apparition, the promulgation of the Pontifical Institute, and its Apostolic Constitution, was issued - and he entrusted this Institute to the care of Our Lady of Fatima.
Thirdly, on May 13th 2010 there was a significant event in Birmingham, England.
It was on this day, in the immediate run-up to the beatification of the founder of the Birmingham Oratory, Cardinal Newman, three of its members were summarily ordered by the Papal Visitor, Fr. Felix Selden to quit their home at 12 hours notice. For two of them, the Oratory had been their home for twenty years. One was almost 69 years of age.
They were told that they had to go away and pray for an "indefinite period " initially in separate monasteries in England, Scotland and France. Many wondered at the time whether this was to be until after the Papal visit. They were not to communicate with one another.
The question of whether or not these three virtuous and highly intelligent men were ever going to be allowed back to their home was formally put, by a parishioner to the assistant to the Papal Visitor, Fr. Ignatius Harrison of the London Oratory. The question was twice answered with silence.
A yet more disturbing question also put by a parishioner-- on whether Frs. Fenlon and Cleevely were then at imminent risk of being ordered to go abroad -- was also met with silence. (Incidentally, Brother Lewis Berry had been sent to France some five weeks previously.)
CF NEWS : I believe that not one priest in the country spoke up for them. How can you explain this?
TW : Good priests are busy men and there was a great deal of disinformation in the media. This disinformation caused confusion in spite of the valiant efforts of individual lay people to get the truth through. Here I am thinking of James Preece with his blog "Catholic and Loving it" [http://www.lovingit.co.uk/], John Smeaton [www.spuc.org.uk] and of course yourself on CFNEWS. This was one reason for the clerical silence.
The other reason was much more worrying. The penalties that the three Oratorians had suffered were draconian and it was universally agreed that they are virtuous men who are innocent of any wrong doing. For example, on May 26, 2010 their brother Oratorian and their then Provost, Fr. Duffield said in reply to a letter: "I agree with what you say about Fathers Dermot, Philip and Lewis and with the specific examples you give of their virtues. All three have been my friends for many years. They have not done anything wrong" and the matters involved are private and "do not involve any wrong-doing". In a letter to an enquirer (June 5, 2010) the spokesman of the Oratory wrote : "These good and holy men have led exemplary lives and offered wonderful pastoral care to the parishioners of the Oratory "
As I said the other reason for the silence of the priests was more worrying. It was fear. Having seen what happened to the Oratorians they wondered what might to happen to them if they too were outspoken.
CF NEWS : So what were these "virtuous" and "innocent" and "exemplary " members of Birmingham Oratory guilty of?
TW : I believe that the short answer is that they had been guilty of being outspoken defenders of the Papal Magisterium and that they had without compromise (and most unfashionably in England) publicly taught and defended Humanae Vitae and the Church's teaching on abortion.
With great courage and high intelligence Fr Cleevely had defended the inalienable rights of parents to be the primary educators of their children by publishing a radical critique of the Catholic Education Service's notorious policy of collaboration with the State on sex "education". These sensitive and cultivated men had thus bravely and knowingly risked incurring the anger of the episcopate.
I believe that Fr Cleevely also had incurred the anger of the hierarchy by being guilty of criticising Cherie Blair's proposed meeting with Jack Sullivan who was miraculously cured by the intercession of Blessed John Cardinal Newman.
I believe that they had, in a word, been found guilty of mounting an unambiguous defence of Catholic moral teaching on life and the family on the (now muted) Oratory website - a website that was, before the Beatification, one of the most prestigious platforms in the world from which to mount this defence.
CF NEWS : We cannot avoid referring to the fact that an allegation of "homophobia" had been mentioned.
TW: Yes this cruel and untrue accusation was raised in blogs and was implicit in an article the 21st of May 2010 by Ruth Gledhill.
CF NEWS : So, what is the impact in practice of all of this is for Catholic families?
TW : Not long before the eviction of the three Oratorians from their home their web site was put under the control of Mr. Jack Valero then simultaneously spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory, head of the semi-official organisation Catholic Voices and press spokesman for Opus Dei. Strong statements from the Birmingham Oratory website ceased.
The impact of these events is that Catholic families can no longer expect the clear, strong and public support of their priests on parental rights and sexual morality. This is sad and deeply regrettable. However it has the consequence that if we wish the promotion of the catechesis on the family of Pope John Paul, as confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, we ourselves as families must live and promote it.
Blessed Pope John Paul the Great pray for Catholic families and their priests.
St Philip Neri pray for all Oratorians involved in this crisis.