Sunday, 25 September 2011

500 days of exile

But he has prayed 500 days
And he will pray 500 more
Only the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary can understand
Our Most Blessed Virgin Mary is taking Fr Dermot by her hand

But he has prayed 500 days
And he will pray 500 more
He’s been walking the way of the cross
It’s been Loss and Gain, Gain and Loss

But he has prayed 500 days
And he will pray 500 more
And we hope and we pray
That one day
he will kneel down at the Birmingham Oratory door…

Friday, 23 September 2011

500 Hail Marys for 500 days of exile

Our Blessed Lady De Mercede by Fr. Francis Cuthbert Doyle, 1896

Salisbury John writes:
ON Sunday 25th September Fr Dermot Fenlon will have been living in forced exile from his home for 500 days! As Saturday 24th September is the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom may I suggest that from Saturday evening through to Sunday evening we offer up a spiritual bouquet for Fr Fenlon's health and intentions of at least 500 Hail Marys (which is only 10 x 5 mysteries of the Holy Rosary).

Please join us in praying the Rosary for Fr Fenlon, a good and faithful priest, so undeserving of the institutional violence meted out against him. Let's offer up 500 Hail Marys for truth and justice to prevail upon him and peace and charity to be FULLY restored to the Birmingham Oratory.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Brothers of the Birmingham Oratory


From left to right: Fr Gareth Jones, Fr Gregory Winterton, Br Lewis Berry, Fr Philip Cleevely, Cardinal Foley, Fr Guy Nichols, Fr Anton Guziel, Fr Paul Chavasse, Fr Dermot Fenlon.

Birmingham Three Recap...

Catholic and Loving it blog (link) 20.9.2011

I don't know how many of you are new to events at the Birmingham Oratory in the run up to the Papal visit but it's been a while and it might help if I run through it all again.

It was back in May 2010 that The Tablet first carried the news that three Oratorians had been told to “spend time in prayer for an indefinite period by Fr Felix Selden, an apostolic visitor to the Oratory Congregation”. If the Tablet had stopped there that might have been the end of it - such things are an internal matter and helps nobody to speculate on blogs.

Except in this case it wasn't an internal matter, it ceased to be an internal matter when the spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory picked up the phone to The Tablet and named names. However much he might bleat now about privacy, it was the Birmingham Oratory spokesman and not a blogger who made it a matter of pubic record that Fr Philip Cleevely, Fr Dermot Fenlon and Brother Lewis Berry had been “ordered to go on retreat” by Fr Felix Selden. This is the ecclesiastical equivalent of announcing that somebody has been permanently suspended from work - a very public stain on the reputation of these three men and one which they were entirely unable to defend themselves due to the gagging order placed on them by the Oratory.

As the weeks turned in to months some suggested that whatever the three had done to deserve their exile, it must have been pretty serious. Rumours of bullying and possible sexual misconduct began to surface. Friends of the three men were so distressed at the way in which their reputations were being “trashed” that they began to campaign publicly that the three were known to be good holy men a blog was started and an open letter was sent to Fr Felix Selden.

To suggest that these friends and wellwishers were guilty of gossip is outrageous. It was gossip and rumour that they were seeking to dispel.

It was about this time that BBC West Midlands became interested and Oratory spokesman Jack Valero was quick to play things down... “it's just a time away to cool down” he said “they can come back soon and we can continue as normal”. Only a few weeks later Jack had changed his tune telling Radio Ulster that the three “are going to come back at some point, we don't know, it's not going to be soon”. This is the sort of transparency most people would associate with a brick wall.

To their credit, the Oratory did defend the three men and Ruth Dudley Edwards reported that Jack Valero had “confirmed unequivocally that the Three are entirely guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever”. Of course, this only begs the question – if they have done nothing wrong, why are they away? Why can they not come back? This soon became the central mystery of the Birmingham Three. Three men, declared innocent by an official spokesman for the Birmingham Oratory yet exiled from their home for months and looking increasingly likely to miss the beatification of their founder. Why had they been sent away in the first place?

More questions began to be asked, like why is the press officer for Opus Dei speaking for the Birmingham Oratory? Things did't get any less mysterious when it turned out that while Mr Valero is officially speaking for the Oratory he is actually being paid to do so by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and reports to Archbishop Nichol's press secretary. Yet more questions were raised about the role of the mysterious Fr Gareth/Sebastian Jones...

Pressure was mounting, blog entries about The Birmingham Three were getting hits from Rome, I had been on the Radio and Ruth Dudley Edwards was writing in Standpoint magazine and had even got the story on TV. The same questions were repeatedly asked: If the three have done nothing wrong, why can't they come home?

Something had to be done and something was, I can't say exactly how much pressure Brother Lewis Berry was under when he agreed to spend next year at an Oratory in South Africa but it's very hard imagine he did so of his own free will. The youngest of the three had the most to lose and with his ordination hanging in the balance the press release in his name had all the credibility of a forced confession. Fr Philip Cleevely issued a remarkably similar press release about how happy he is to be spending the next year in Toronto. It would not be long until the men who Jack Valero said would be “back soon” announced plans to remain abroad permanently.

Which leaves Fr Dermot Fenlon, the last of the three. There has been no press release from Fr Fenlon, no statement that he is happy about being sent away from his home of twenty years at a days notice despite being 68 years of age. So Fr Fenlon has been well and truly stamped on, according to a report in the Catholic Herald Fr Fenlon is being “forcibly exclaustrated” for a period of five years. In the article Simon Caldwell writes that “Under the Code of Canon Law, a priest cannot be exclaustrated for more than three years unless there is a “grave reason” yet Fr Fenlon has officially done nothing wrong. Such a prolonged period must have “either the direct approval of either the Holy See or the local bishop, who, in the case of Fr Fenlon, is Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham”.

And so the questions remain: If there has been no injustice, why not let the three speak to journalists and tell everbody how happy they are with the situation? If the three have done nothing wrong, why couldn't they be present for the beatification?

More than a year later - why is Fr Dermot Fenlon still in exile?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

He's once, twice, three times an Oratorian?

Catholic Paterfamilias blog (link) 20.9.2011

Recent news that Pushkin the cat has "written" a book would seem to pretty much sound the death knell for the Birmingham Oratory as a place of serious scholarship. What Cardinal Newman would have made of it I would not pretend to guess.


The further announcement today that Fr Gareth Jones is returning to the Birmingham Oratory as assistant to the new Provost is really just the icing on the cake. What's he hoping for? Third time lucky?


And yes, the title is a passing nod to a song title but I don't have the time or energy to parody the entire lyrics of that song to reflect the absurdity and brutal cruelty of what has happened over the past 16 months to Fr Dermot Fenlon.


Perhaps Peter Jennings will be having a special first day cover commemorative stamp set released by some far flung postal service to commemorate Fr Jones' return to the Oratorian fold? If that happens, I do hope we get another press release from Peter with a picture of Archbishop Vincent Nichols holding said first day cover. After all, the good Archbishop must be pleased by this turn of events.

Fr Ignatius Harrison to head the Birmingham Oratory; Fr Gareth Jones to be his Assistant

An Honour and a Responsibility blog (link) 20.9.2011

The admirable Reluctant Sinner, whose blog I heartily recommend, has posted this news from Peter Jennings, press secretary to the Archbishop of Birmingham.

Interesting, in view of the Apostolic Visitation last year at the Birmingham Oratory. Fr Harrison was the second Visitor (Fr Felix Selden being the first) and Fr Jones the canonical adviser to the Visitation.

I have a funny feeling that it won’t be long before Catholic and Loving it, and others, have something to say on the matter.

Changes within the English Oratories: Fr Ignatius Harrison has been appointed Provost of the Birmingham Oratory

A Reluctant Sinner (link) 20.9.2011

The Very Rev Ignatius Harrison CongOrat, who is currently the Provost of the London Oratory (more commonly known as the Brompton Oratory) was today also appointed Provost of the Birmingham Oratory. This appointmentby the Holy See follows the sudden resignation of the Very Rev Richard Duffield CongOrat. This information was released in an email by the Catholic Communications Network, though is yet to appear on the Bishops' Conference website's media page.

According to the press release, Fr Duffield resigned for reasons of ill-health, at his own request. Though, especially in light of the recent events at the Birmingham Oratory, in which the community seems to have suffered from internal disagreements, many will wonder whether there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Peter Jennings, Press Secretary to the Archbishop of Birmingham, reports that "Fr Gareth Jones, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cardiff, a former novice at the Birmingham Oratory, has been appointed as Assistant to Fr Harrison."

It was also announced today that Fr Ignatius Harrison will be the new Actor and Vice-Postulator for the Cause of Blessed John Henry Newman, who was beatified just over a year ago on 19 September 2010.

No details have been released as to whether or not Fr Harrison will now leave his position at the London Oratory, or whether there are plans to replace him there.

Please keep both Fr Harrison and Fr Duffield, as well as the London and Birmingham Oratories in your prayers.

New Provost Appointed at the Birmingham Oratory

Peter Jennings (link) 20.9.2011

The following press release was issued by the Catholic Communications office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, on Tuesday 20 September 2011:

“Fr Ignatius Harrison has been appointed Provost of the Birmingham Oratory by the Holy See, following the resignation of Fr Richard Duffield.

Fr Duffield has resigned for reasons of ill-health, at his own request.

Fr Harrison will also be actor and vice-postulator for the cause of Cardinal Newman, who was beatified in 2010.”

End of release.

"Fr Ignatius Harrison is at present also Provost of the Brompton Oratory in London.

Fr Gareth Jones, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cardiff, a former novice at the Birmingham Oratory, has been appointed as Assistant to Fr Harrison.

Thoughts and comments about these appointments most welcome."

Monday, 19 September 2011

News from the Birmingham Oratory

Birmingham Oratory Newsletter (link) 18.9.2011



“PUSHKIN THE PONTIFICAL CAT” has written a book of his life
story (one of the chief incidents being his meeting with Pope Benedict
at the Oratory). He hopes that this will be available in November. All
proceeds will go towards urgent restoration work on the interior of our
church and to the Carmelite nuns at Wolverhampton who are illustrating
the book. It will make a wonderful Christmas gift for all.