Just a brief note, but Damian has put up something quite important relating to the Brum Oratory saga. His main point is that, notwithstanding the approaching papal visit and the centrality of the Oratory to it, this boil has been festering for so long that it needs to be lanced. And so it does – one would hope that at some point even the most obscurantist of Catholic hierarchs would realise that “let’s keep this quiet lest we rock the boat” is not a winning strategy these days.
There are in face two interlocking stories that have both been rumbling on for months. One is the case of Fr Paul Chavasse, who had to leave the Oratory after stories of his close friendship with a young man started doing the rounds. Everybody concerned swore it was a completely chaste friendship, but tongues were wagging and the Oratory management, alert to the possibility of scandal, moved into action. Too bad for Fr Paul. That is the simple bit.
The more puzzling bit is the matter of Fr Dermot Fenlon, Fr Philip Cleevely and Brother Lewis Berry, who were all sent into exile by the Oratorians’ apostolic visitor a few months back. More precisely, they were ordered to spend an unspecified amount of time in prayer, at locations several hundred miles away from each other. Very few people know why, and none of them are prepared to say, except that there is no question of impropriety – which prompts the question of why the severe punishment at a very exciting time for the Congregation. Rumours, of course, have been flying around Birmingham, and James has been doing an admirable job following up the story. There is some vague talk that this has something to do with the Newman beatification, all three of the exiles having been involved with the Newman Cause, but that could cover all manner of sins. It could of course just be personality clashes or bog-standard factionalism at the Oratory.
Anyway, some parishioners have got so frustrated at the Oratory’s stonewalling that they’ve issued an open letter on the subject. And this serves the worthwhile purpose of dragging the matter further into the spotlight, where the Oratorian bigwigs would rather it was not. At this point, they can either rescind the punishment or give a clear explanation of why the punishment was imposed in the first place, preferably both. What is not sustainable, especially with the Oratory in the spotlight coming up to B16’s visit, is to sing dumb and let the rumour mill go into overtime. As Max Clifford will tell you, if you don’t control the story then somebody else will.
Oh, just one thought. While the Oratorians themselves have been very shy and retiring, the press officer for the Newman Cause has been popping up on BBC West Midlands to say that there’s nothing to see here, honest guv. In fact, at one point the press officer was keen to issue a press release saying that there was no story here. That sort of thing causes me to slap my forehead in despair. Transparency is a viable press strategy, as is plausibly spinning the story; total silence not quite so good; what I don’t think is viable is the equivalent of sending a press release to a school of sharks telling them exactly where in the water they can find blood.
Did I mention the press officer for the Newman Cause is the ubiquitous Jack Valero? I don’t want to be nasty about Jack, who is a perfectly pleasant fellow, but surely the reason he gets all these media gigs is that he’s supposed to understand how to handle the media? Still, it could be worse. They could have left it to Jennings.