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Let’s stop hissing and spitting over the Pope’s visit

The Holy Father’s trip to Britain will be miserable for everyone if we don’t change our tone

By on Friday, 30 July 2010

The interior of the Birmingham Oratory (Photo courtesy of the Flickr photostream of the Catholic Church of England and Wales)

The interior of the Birmingham Oratory (Photo courtesy of the Flickr photostream of the Catholic Church of England and Wales)

Is there a tendency these days for Catholic laymen to sit on the sidelines shouting abuse at bishops, priests and Church bureaucrats? Maybe there is. I have done it often enough myself

Perhaps “shouting” is unfair, but consider the flap over the Birmingham Oratory and its refusal to say why it has sent three of its members on indefinite leave. Many might believe, as I do, that it is no business of ours, that it is for the Oratory to decide how to conduct its internal affairs. The Church is not a democracy, thank God. But the young firebrands of the blogosphere will have none of this. They think that the Oratory should give an account of its conduct in this matter, and believe that its silence is in the highest degree sinister.

It is never very easy to get a grip on conspiracy theories, but the line the firebrands are pushing seems to be this: that the three Oratorians have been moved precisely because they are good, brave, orthodox Catholics, and blameless in every conceivable way (as I am happy to believe they are). But why remove good men from their posts? That’s easy. Because our wicked bishops want them out of the way for the Pope’s visit. The three men would only cause embarrassment by speaking up for the truths of our religion, especially in matters of sexual morality. It’s a plot, in other words, by the NuChurch.

James Preece is in many ways an admirable young man, and he clearly loves the Church. He runs Catholic and Loving It and has a hand in the UNOFFICIAL Website of the Papal Visit to the United Kingdom. Many will think that it was wrong to exclude him from Catholic Voices, the team set up to prepare the public for the Pope’s visit. But he seems to have lost it as far as the Birmingham Oratory is concerned. He is very, very cross. Consider this:

“Unfortunately, when you are three humble holy men standing in the path of Archbishop Nichols and his plan for an all encompassing Church where anybody and everybody can believe whatever they like … then you tend to get squashed.”

Go here for the full post.

It is an extraordinary charge. The Archbishop may have been derelict in certain areas — some find him wanting in his media statements on sex education and contraception – but nothing can justify the accusation that he is plotting to destroy the Church (for that would be the result of his “plan” for a Church ”where everybody can believe whatever they like”). It rather looks as though Mr Preece has been carried away by his emotions.

Perhaps the same can be said of some of the Oratory’s parishioners in Birmingham. A couple of days ago a group of them released the text of an open letter to Father Felix Selden CO, Delegate of the Apostolic See for the Confederation of the Oratory, in which they told him that the souls of their children were at risk because of the suspension of the three holy men. (“Our children’s very souls are at stake and we will not be silence [sic]”.)

Here, from that letter, is a sentence that did not quite work for me:

“We will not easily forget the look of bewilderment on our children’s faces when they heard from the pulpit the announcement of the expulsion of these three holy men with no explanation, and the difficult task we have (and continue to have) in trying to mitigate the enormous scandal that has been done to these little ones.”

I once had children of my own, but never children such as these. I’d quite like to know how little the “little ones” are and what their parents are doing to mitigate the “enormous scandal”. If they are trying to mitigate it by talking about it all the time and sharing their misgivings with their children, they will fail. It’s easy to speak from a distance, of course, but a better ploy in such circumstances might be to smile reassuringly and say that it is a very complicated matter and best left to Mummy and Daddy, and certainly nothing to worry about or lose sleep over.

Here’s a thought: perhaps it is time for temperance all round. If we don’t all calm down, if the hissing and spitting does not stop, the Pope’s visit will be a misery for everyone, not least for the Holy Father himself.

  • Pedrotti

    “I once had children of my own, but never children such as these. I’d quite like to know how little the “little ones” are and what their parents are doing to mitigate the “enormous scandal”. If they are trying to mitigate it by talking about it all the time and sharing their misgivings with their children, they will fail.”

    Says the man who in the Charterhouse piece in this weeks edition states:

    ‘My childhood was not especially holy …..I think I lapsed for the first time after listening to a sermon [ ] on holy purity when I was 16 or 17. …. I lapsed for the same reason most adolescents of my generation lapsed: I wanted to have fun and my parish priest was offering me the Cross”

    So if the parishioners of the Oratory are concerned that their children are no longer hearing the Cross from their beloved priests it must be because they do not want their children to lapse like Mr. Reid did who then has the audacity to tell them how to take care of their childrens’ souls!!

    extraordinary arrogance!

  • defiant12314

    Whilst Mr Ried is right to remind us that the Church is not a democracy; there is a sense amongst Traditioanal Catholics (the legal variaty) that certain members of the hierachy are 'out to get them'.
    The visit by +Niccols to hindu shrines, the closing of a thriving Church where the Traditional Mass is offered by + Rouche and the aforementioned incident at the Oratory do absoulutely nothing to quell these feelings; my guess is that many of these Catholics see it as their duty to stand up to a hiearachy which they percieve to be going round the bend.

  • john grover

    Mr Reid is quite right we should not shout at bishops from the sidelines, there is far too much beating the bishop in the catholic church

  • LiberalTraditionalist

    It’s all very well Stuart to make sweeping generalisations about the motives of those who have sought to ensure that the issue of the Birmingham clergy isn’t swept aside.

    It’s not just church traditionalists that feel that the judgement of the Oratory’s Apostolic Delegate lacks reason, fairness or political sensitivity. If the Church Authorities openly operate in an unjust manner; it is wrong that commentators in the Catholic Press seek to reinforce that injustice.

    The Oratory’s “Press Spokesman” is on record that the three have done nothing wrong yet their parishioners remain deprived of their support and spiritual guidance. Three people “who have done nothing wrong” have no immediate prospect of being at the Oratory when their former Provost is beatified.

    If you go to another blog run by another newspaper you will be shocked at the innuendo and unjust allegations that are being brought into the dialogue by the uninformed gaggle.

    While it’s reasonable to ask for calm and restraint at this stage; can we expect the same sense of reason and proportion in September when the gutter press starts to sharpen its knives? Unlikely, I would suggest that all sorts of abhorent allegations will be made by them when the time comes round.

    Can anyone say that what has been done is fair, reasonable and just and that it has been administered in a diligent and open manner? I don’t see many comments that suggest an affirmative response to all elements of the equation.

    The gutter press are ready and waiting with their “no smoke without fire” theories and time is running short for the Congregation of the Oratory to do what is right.

  • Thegrassysageknoll

    I really don't understand how on earth Catholics in the pew can be expected to keep silent in the face of this outrageous treatment of the “Birmingham 3″. If only our bishops had given the same treatment to the truly guilty pederast clergy, then the church would not be suffering as it is today.

  • Mary

    I have just posted this on James Preece's blog:Mary said…

    Let's try a different stance: Just suppose James, that you have been entirely misled by the 'Oratory Parishioners' who have started all this. Just suppose that they DO have axes to grind with the Fathers for entirely personal reasons. At least one of your 'friends' falls into that category. Why don't we assume that it is the Fathers of the Oratory that have told the truth all along: that Fr Dermot and Fr Philip and Bro Lewis are away for entirely internal matters: that they are not necessarily the “three humble Holy Men” that you have stated, but ordinary clergy with flaws, and good points, like others? Let us assume that it is completely false to propose that they have been sent away for the reasons you and others have proposed. After all, ALL the Oratory Fathers are outspoken men on these matters; and publically, at least two still there have been MORE so and MORE actively than the three 'sent away'. There hasn't been a single objective FACT to support your claims which are therefore hypothetical. The FACTS are that the Oratorians have been absolutely consistent in saying that the 3 were sent away for INTERNAL reasons. What you are doing is calling all THESE good – and probably holy men – liars, as you have Jack Valero. You and others of your commentators have pilloried the Fathers of the Oratory still in Birmingham, and Fr Ignatius Harrison and Fr Felix Seldon for their effective “silence” , (and indeed have pilloried members of the Bishop's Conference). It is indeed entirely compatible with what the Fathers HAVE said as you have reported, and in Fr Felix's letter which appeared in your blog comments, that the discretion on the Fathers' part may well be that they will not be drawn into comments as to why the three have been sent away. Perhaps to do so would amount to detraction – something which perhaps you, and some of the commentators to your blog should consider very carefully. Finally, the 'open' letters published by the NACF and the Catholic Herald effectively amount to anonymous letters – unless the names of the individual authors – “Oratory Parishioners” (?) are published. I appreciate that these people will, in their minds, have very good intentions but very many other 'Oratory Parishioners' fully support the Fathers – be they here or away – and we wish them to be left in peace to sort out the problems (which occur in Religious communities as well as families). It would also be interesting to know who, by name, are these effectively 'anonymous' critics, who are damaging the Church's reputation in advance of the Pope's visit and Cardinal Newman's Beatification.

  • Utopia
  • Utopia
  • David Booth

    I am the first to admit that I know not the reasons why the “Birmingham 3″ were moved and I also accept that the Catholic Church is thankfully not a democracy but what I do know is that the days when a Bishop could issue a decree and accept no request for an explanation are long over.
    Remember it was in part this blind obedience to a Bishops orders, with no discussion tolerated, that landed the Catholic Church in a mess over the child abuse scandals with their subsequent cover up's.
    Remember be open and honest in all matters and you will not go far wrong, and this applies even to Prince's of the Church.

  • Jackie Parkes

    Jackie Parkes said…
    Dear CF News, James P, bloggers, Oratories, Lay people, clergy etc

    I have been following the debate regarding 3/4 Oratorian Priests & one brother.

    What is very clear is that people have been put in the position of “choosing sides”.

    This is just not “Catholic”. We are all on the “same” side.

    Fr Felix Selden has spent some considerable time trying to placate ” both sides. “

    I don't find his tone threatening – just explanatory.

    I beseech as an NACF & Oratory supporter & mother of a large family that the battle ceases.

    Please can we be assured that Almighty God will ..restore peace.

    I beg you to reconsider any protests or demonstrations before &/or during the Papal Visit.

    Whilst I sympathise with the letter writers & it has been helpful to explain concerns, perhaps just out of

    Christian charity we could leave the subject for now. I know that the 4 are being looked after well.

    I personally don't see this as “giving in”. There are the other Fathers suffering as indeed we all are.

    Can we call a “truce” for now & after the Papal Visit perhaps ask for a meeting with Fr Ignatius Harrison?

    With regard to my own very public “demise” re my uncharitable blogging about one of the Fathers, I feel I & my family have suffered enough over the last few months..for me deservedly so but not for my children.

    However the family are doing fine & me..I can clearly see the Oratory problem. Please note that not all of the 3 are the stalwart pro-lifers but rather like us all fallible. I know this because I worked in my own home with some of the fathers on the sex education programme, so much so that one converted to the Catholic Pontifical viewpoint.

    I do think it is true to say also from knowing very well that the PP has worked tirelessly on the pro-life campaign.

    Regarding the other priests I am very uncomfortable with the descriptions of Fr Gareth Jones's involvement. Again I know him too & he has nothing but praise for me & my large family & always a kindly father & shepherd. I do not think he deserves such criticism & I do think some of the accusations against him are libelous. All I've ever seen him do or hear about doing is saying Mass.

    With regard to Fr Paul Chavasse I have still a very high regard for him. Which of us hasn't had a chaste. intense friendship?

    I thank my close friends & family for supporting me through a very painful time of my life. I'm sure the fathers get support but is there any way, we as Catholics can all forgive & move on ready for the joyful beatification?

    I think the B3 have the message we all support them, perhaps we can drop the subject & let the Oratory get on with its' business?

    I know my CF friends won't desert me over this post..even if they disagree with me because they know what I've been through. I hope the Oratory Parishioners don't launch an attack on me or call me hypocritical because truly I'm being honest.

    I pray for the day when I'm welcomed back to the Oratory as I haven't really settled away. I hope the priests return ..all of us only if it is God's will.

    I pray through the intercession of St Joseph..


    Mrs Jackie Parkes

  • Andrew M Brown

    A brilliant blog. There's paranoia in the air. Why do some people just presume, on no evidence, that there's a conspiracy and that Archbishop Nichols or other Church leaders must have sinister motives?

  • John Brendan

    Wake up Mary.
    Three good men were singled out simply because they uphold Catholic teaching (and I say Catholic with a capital C)
    It's wake up time for everyone. The churchmen are interested in only 2 things – power and money.
    Decent people everywhere will no longer stay silent whilst Church leaders sell out on life, family and marriage.
    They can leave. I for one will not and I won't keep quiet about the deception, lies and manipulation.
    The Birmingham 3 have done no wrong – save that they speak the truth – and the churchmen, like Pilot, wash their hands

  • John Brendan

    Hi Stuart,

    Looks like you climbed on your soap box.
    Why don't you ask AB Nichols what he said to these men?
    Would the Bishops cover up – well just look at the figures for abuse and gay priests and just look at the sex education policy and AB's statements promoting contraception!!

    While you are at it. Get AB Nichols to confirm that he will allow B16 to publicly speak out to:
    Defend Marriage as between a man and a Woman and not civil partnerships; That abortion is killing and the targeting of the pre implanted embryo is against Catholic teaching ; That the government's sex education policy will no longer be pushed in Catholic schools and that Parents are the primary teachers and protectors of their children; And gay priests, bishops and cardinals must come out and get out.

    Meanwhile you just keep onside, keep your head down and do what the churchmen tell you – there's a big job at the end of it. Don't get on the wrong side of them or even attempt to question their self ordained superior intellect or political ambition – they will squash you like a fly.

  • Heartbeatl

    Are you in the real world? Where shall I bstart to provide the evidence? How about the sex education policy, the abuse, the gay agenda, abortion, child abuse cover ups, need I go on?

  • comment

    'Traditioanal Catholics (the legal variaty)'

    The Catholic variety are the only 'legal variety', by capitalising the T there I think you may just have started your own religion.

  • Dorothy Cummings McLean

    And just so you know, the rest of the world is watching, too:

  • Peter Henshall

    Why should I as a Londoner spend my taxes on security for the Holy Supporter of Paedophiles? I note that his Unholiness has refused to accept the resignation of two Irish Catholic leaders who were deeply complicit in covering up the abuse of children. As Christ said, it would be better if a millstone be put round their necks and they were thrown into the deep.

  • Gutter Guard Reviews

    This is cool! And so interested! Are u have more posts like this? Plese tell me, thanks