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.